health

"Another day of being verbally abused": An open letter from a GP.

I’m sure you are aware of the health crisis that Victoria, and Australia as a whole, is facing right now.

Yet, after another day of being verbally abused by a patient, it seems to be lost on some people.

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Over the past two years, General Practice has been hit hard.

During the height of the pandemic, telehealth protocols were enacted. This was a much needed and well-received initiative, but it's time to rein it in. Patients now expect telehealth, and expect it to be bulk-billed. 

It is assumed that General Practice should absorb the costs, keep the doors and phone lines open for patients, and keep their business afloat, all at once.

Oh, and while we try our best to keep our doors open and look after our patients, we are expected to do so without PPE provisions from the government, while simultaneously being informed we must follow PPE protocols.

As frontline workers during the pandemic, General Practices were at high risk of becoming infected. We couldn’t access Rapid Antigen Tests, much like the rest of the state. 

During this time, however, our reception staff have been screamed at, degraded, and made to cry by inconsiderate individuals complaining about these same issues - the difference being that General Practice was there to help, and instead we were berated.

As I sit here and write this letter, I am chasing 18 months’ worth of arrears - patients stating that they won’t pay for telehealth and how ridiculous it is to expect them to pay when it’s ‘just a phone call’. 

They also expect us to be available for telehealth consultations, and our phone bills to pay themselves.

Then came the Covid vaccine roll-out, amongst all the ever-changing rules and regulations about who stays home, who can work and disagreements about ‘is it 7 days, is it 14 days?’. 

We received delayed deliveries on all vaccine types. Our consumables didn’t come with the vaccines either, but thankfully our store room had the needles, syringes and alcohol wipes required to run a Covid Vaccination Clinic, because our clinic was also being advertised online to anyone and everyone and our phones often rang out as we didn’t have enough staff to answer them.

It was around this time that we received our PPE goggles, almost 12 months later. Now I have three large boxes of goggles that are no longer required. 

It was also at this time that we received daily emails advising that the expiry dates of the vaccine shelf life had changed again. 

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Sometimes they advised that our minimum order had changed to 100 vials, which was far higher than demand at the time, but on completing the wastage and stock reports, we were reminded that any wastage is frowned upon, and incorrect reporting is a serious offence.

Now it is June, and we are well and truly into Flu Vaccination season.

It was awfully kind to be informed an hour before the public that a Free Flu Vaccine program would be rolled out, commencing the next day.

Less than 24 hours’ notice, to plan for the impending avalanche of bookings, queries and requests for refunds from the patients who paid to have theirs the day prior.

We will be eligible to apply for a $2,000.00 grant for providing vaccines, but the eligibility criteria and required hours/staffing make this a gesture, not an offer.

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Perhaps the brains behind the roll-out figured that General Practice was already so burnt out and exhausted from the previous year that we wouldn’t have the strength to fight back. For the most part, they’re right.

So. 

As I walk into the clinic today, I speak to my receptionists, nurses and GPs. ‘If you don’t laugh, you cry’ is followed closely by a quiet attempt at laughter, and then the sullen face reappears. 

‘When you speak on the phone, smile. It changes the tone of your voice,’ is met with, ‘It would be easier to smile if I didn’t dread answering it.’

I understand that we all have bad days. We’ve been separated from family and friends. Some people have lost their jobs, or work remotely. Others were working from home and now are frustrated to be returning to the office.

I understand that you are frustrated your GP is isolating, or fully booked. I understand your child is unwell. Believe me when I say we’re doing everything we can to get that script to the pharmacy closest to you.

All I ask is that you do not yell at, swear at or bully my team.

If it weren’t for them, no one would’ve answered your call. If it weren’t for them, the clinic wouldn’t be open today and you wouldn’t be able to be seen. 

If it weren’t for the team showing up through thick and thin, you wouldn’t have a script to be sent to your pharmacy - apologies that it’s arrived 20 minutes later than you expected.

After many months, it is time to consider - does what you’re saying have the potential to break a person? You don’t know the circumstances of the person you spoke to in that way. They have kids. They have been in isolation. They understand that costs are increasing.

Imagine the stress or frustration you feel right now, as you rudely address someone simply trying to help, and imagine someone attacking you verbally or physically at the same time.

That is General Practice.

What do you think about the health crisis in Australia right now? Share your thoughts in the comments section below.

Feature Image: Supplied.