When are GP respiratory clinics closing?
All Victorian Government funded general practice respiratory clinics (GPRCs) have ceased operations as of Tuesday, 31 October 2023.
Why are GPRCs closing?
GPRCs were conceived and funded as a valuable temporary response in the early phase of the COVID-19 pandemic. There were around 50 operating from 2020 to 2022; this number has decreased to 16 as of October 2023.
Demand for GPRC services has decreased significantly in recent months. The Victorian Government is expected to close the remaining 16 GPRCs on 31 October 2023, when the 2023 influenza season ends.
Earlier this year, all general practices were able to access nationally funded Strengthening Medicare grants to boost their capability to safely and effectively treat patients with respiratory symptoms, and make other improvements to their practices. Even before these grants, many practices were regularly and safely treating patients with respiratory symptoms, and have done so throughout the pandemic.
The pandemic response and the health care services available has changed significantly since GPRCs were established in 2020. The population is highly vaccinated and other mitigation factors are common. New services such as the Victorian Virtual Emergency Department and priority primary care centres are also taking the pressure off general practices and hospital emergency departments.
We thank all GPRC owners, operators and staff for their dedication to protecting the health of Victorians through delivering life-saving services. We also thank the many thousands of other primary care workers who have also provided testing and care for patients throughout the pandemic.
Where can patients with respiratory symptoms seek care?
If you test positive for COVID-19, it is likely your symptoms will be mild and you can recover safely at home. Visit the healthdirect website for information on managing COVID-19 at home and what to do if your symptoms worsen.
Patients with mild to moderate symptoms (including confirmed COVID-19) can seek care from their usual GP, or another GP if their usual one isn’t available. Most general practices provide care for patients with respiratory symptoms, both by telehealth and face-to-face. Telehealth appointments are suitable for most low-risk patients.
Patients with urgent but non-life-threatening symptoms can see a GP at a priority primary care centre. If you are unable to attend a priority primary care centre, contact the Victorian Virtual Emergency Department.
If you are attending a face-to-face appointment and have respiratory symptoms, you should inform the clinic, wear a mask and follow the clinic’s protocols. For example, they may be asked to wait in a car or an isolation room.
In an emergency visit your local hospital emergency department or call 000.
Where can patients access COVID-19 antiviral medication?
These medicines are available to eligible patients by prescription only. A GP can assess if you need these medicines and prescribe them for you or refer you to a hospital.
The best health care professional to prescribe these medicines is your regular GP. They understand your medical history, risk profile and details of other medications you may be taking. They can work with you to determine if antiviral medication is suitable for you.
If you are unable to get an appointment with a GP and you are an eligible patient who urgently needs a prescription for COVID-19 antiviral medication, contact your closest priority primary care centre. Or, if you are unable to attend a priority primary care centre, contact the Victorian Virtual Emergency Department.
You can also call NURSE-ON-CALL on 1300 60 60 24 or the National Coronavirus Hotline on 1800 020 080 for advice.
What are the COVID-19 testing options once GPRCs close?
Rapid antigen tests (RATs) are the easiest way to test for COVID-19. Visit the Victorian Government website for information on when to use a RAT, where to get them, and what to do once you find out your result.
Most people will only need to take a RAT to find out if they have COVID-19. People who are at risk of severe COVID-19 illness may need a polymerase chain reaction (PCR) test.
If you are at risk of severe COVID-19 illness, your RAT result is negative or inconclusive, and you require a PCR test:
- Visit your GP. They will decide if you need a PCR test based on your symptoms and medical conditions. They may give you a referral to a pathology collection centre.
- If you have a referral from your GP, go to a pathology collection centre. Your GP should be able to tell you where your closest one is. Don’t forget to take the referral from your GP with you.
- If you are unable to get a GP appointment, you can contact the following services for advice:
- In an emergency call 000.
Please note that priority primary care centres (PPCCs) do not provide routine PCR testing. They provide GP-led care for people with urgent but non-life-threatening conditions. If you are at risk of severe COVID-19 illness and require a PCR test, and your usual GP isn’t available, a PPCC can provide a referral to a pathology centre.
Primary care providers can visit their local HealthPathways or care pathways website for localised clinical and referral information for patients with respiratory symptoms.
What happens in emergency situations such as thunderstorm asthma, COVID-19 or other disease outbreaks?
In thunderstorm asthma events and other emergencies, priority primary care centres and the Victorian Virtual Emergency Department will support many general practices, hospitals and other health services in providing urgent care to Victorians in need.
The Australian Government is establishing a GPRC panel to be activated during respiratory emergencies. The GPRC panel is a group of clinics who will be required to activate quickly to provide health services to people with mild to moderate respiratory symptoms in emergency situations. The Australian Government conducted a tender process to establish this panel in January 2023; PHNs are yet to receive further details.
A PDF copy of these key messages is available to download.