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National doctor network for disasters will be considered after fires

Nowra general practitioner Kate Manderson was told to leave an evacuation centre in the fire-ravaged coastal town where she had set up a makeshift clinic last weekend, when emergency operations advised she could not help because she had not been through the required protocols.


“We need to make sure that red tape isn’t needed to be navigated in the midst of a crisis,” Dr Hall said.

A network of pre-approved doctors with credentials in emergency, pre-hospital and disaster medicine could be called on by emergency response personnel, or take the initiative to offer assistance at emergency management centres, he said.

Mr Coulton said the review would take place “once the current fire situation has dealt with, and will involve consultation with peak bodies, relevant agencies and all levels of government.

Mr Coulton and health minister Greg Hunt announced late on Wednesday that the government had put “emergency protocols” in place to “expedite the process of getting GPs and allied health workers to bushfire-affected communities where they are needed most”.

“Doctors who are unrestricted in where they can work and allied health professionals, can work at a new practice for up to two weeks, using their existing Medicare provider number,” the ministers said in a joint statement.

The announcement came after Royal Australian College of General Practitioners president Harry Nespolon said there was “no common sense at all” in the bushfire medical response, saying red tape was hampering GPs from assisting affected communities.

Dr Nespolon said the fact that disaster responses were coordinated by the states, while GPs are regulated by the federal government, was creating bureaucratic barriers.

Dr Harry Nespolon of the Royal Australian College of General Practitioners.

Dr Harry Nespolon of the Royal Australian College of General Practitioners.Credit:RACGP

He also called for a $22 bulk billing supplement for GPs treating patients in bushfire-affected communities where “people probably don’t have a lot of money” after losing homes, jobs and businesses, and federal funding for items like burns bandages.

“It’s going to have to happen before this time next year, because there will be more bushfires,” he said.

Doctors in impacted areas were working around the clock to help those affected by fire and smoke and expected to be dealing with the mental health fallout in the months ahead, Dr Nespolon said.

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