GPs say federal government has ‘set us up to fail’ on COVID-19 vaccine rollout

Some Australian GPs say they have been set up to fail on the vaccine rollout, with the federal government allowing millions of patients to book appointments while providing few doses to clinics.

While other countries have opted for a mass-clinic vaccine approach, the Australian government chose to roll out its vaccines via a network of thousands of GP clinics nationwide. The decision was made with the support of GPs.

Dr Bernard Shiu prepares to deliver the AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccine for the first time at the Banksia Medical Centre in Newcomb.Credit:Wayne Taylor

In response to questions about GPs’ concerns, federal Health Minister Greg Hunt pointed The Age and The Sydney Morning Herald to interviews he did with other outlets on Thursday morning. However, they did not address the specific concerns raised.

“Australia made a decision in consultation with general practices to invite all accredited GPs to participate in the national vaccination program as is the case with our National Immunisation Program and annual flu vaccination program,” a spokeswoman for Mr Hunt told The Age and The Sydney Morning Herald last week.

“The alternative would be to exclude patients from seeing their regular GPs, which was not supported by either the AMA, RACGP or the government.”

Linfox and DHL, the companies contracted by the federal government to deliver vaccines, declined to comment.

“It arrives, but in very small quantities. There are a lot of photos of GPs holding one small box of vaccine in front of a huge, empty fridge. They are getting very little every week. And then patients are getting frustrated with them,” said Andrew Miller, president of the Australian Medical Association WA.

Karen Price, president of the Royal Australian College of GPs, signed up to receive 200 doses a week. Her clinic is getting just 50.

The mass vaccination centre at Melbourne’s Royal Exhibition Building.Credit:Luis Enrique Ascui

“My practice manager is frustrated. The issue is: we see the need, we have latent capacity, and we just need the doses,” Dr Price said.

“And I don’t think anyone is quite sure where the hold-up is. I am not clear. It appears the Victorian Department of Health do not know either.”

Nathan Pinskier owns multiple GP practices across Melbourne, some of which have been given only 50 doses of vaccine a week.

“My practice could do double the numbers if we were given double the vaccines,” Dr Pinskier said.

“We’re not able to plan ahead because we cannot work out how many vaccines we will get in any given time period due to the variable delivery schedules, so cannot be certain as to how many slots we should open up.”

Because of a lack of supply and uncertainty about when more will be coming, Dr Dart’s practice has had to turn away many people trying to book appointments. As a result, many patients have been “abusive, threatening and intimidating”, Dr Dart said. To deal with the issue, he is now drafting a letter to his patients to explain supply issues.

Kat Richie, a consultant GP based in Bendigo, works at a practice that purchased a huge and expensive fridge for vaccines. It is sitting largely empty. And a federally run respiratory clinic where she works has not started doing vaccinations because it cannot get enough qualified staff.

“It’s incredible,” Dr Richie, said. “We are very good at doing flu shots. We can do it. But give us the tools. And don’t stand up there and say ‘we’re being greedy for asking for more money’. We’re going to lose money for immunising people like this.”

“The federal government are trying to do it all, and I really don’t know if they should have.”

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