Patients turned away from GP clinics because of COVID-19 concerns despite negative tests

Doctors are refusing to see children with flu-like symptoms even if they are COVID-negative, forcing parents to resort to calling ambulances or attend hospital emergency departments for seasonal ailments, a union says.Key points:An Adelaide mum who was trying to book a GP appointment for her son says she was repeatedly turned awayCurrent SA Health advice recommends anyone with symptoms should stay at home, even if they have tested negative for coronavirusUnions for doctors and ambulances say solutions need to be foundThe Ambulance Employees Association (AEA) has spoken out about the issue, after an Adelaide mother shared her recent experience of repeatedly being turned away from GP clinics as she tried to secure an appointment for her toddler — who was eventually diagnosed with an ear infection.Black Forest resident Nicki Lees noticed her two-year-old son, Victor, had a fever, runny nose and a cough, after he came home from day care on Tuesday.According to SA Health’s current advice, anyone with symptoms “should still stay at home” until they are feeling well again, even if they have tested negative for coronavirus.LIVE UPDATES: Read our blog for the latest news on the COVID-19 pandemicMs Lees said she was “on board with all of the public health messages” but said she was highly concerned about her son, and had to make “about 18″ phone calls to get him treatment — which eventually occurred in a car park.”We did the right thing — we went and got a COVID test and booked a GP on the healthdirect app,” she told ABC Radio Adelaide’s Ali Clarke.”Next morning, we got the COVID test back and it was negative but overnight he got a little bit worse. He was vomiting, he had a blood nose and he had sort of raspy breathing.” Ms Lees was urgently trying to secure an appointment for her son Victor, but was repeatedly thwarted.(Supplied)It was then that her GP clinic contacted her to say her’s son appointment had been cancelled, Ms Lees said.”They rang us and said even with a negative COVID test, they weren’t taking any patients that had cold and flu symptoms,” she said.”We tried a few GPs — the same story. One of them suggested the Women’s and Children’s Hospital so we rang the Women’s and Children’s and they said, ‘We don’t have a GP service. If it gets worse, ring an ambulance’.”We all know there are ramping issues at the moment so I wasn’t really wanting to get to that point.” Ms Lees said she was told to consider taking her son to hospital.(ABC News: Lincoln Rothall)Ms Lees said she then called the state’s COVID-19 hotline and SA Health, who referred her to a respiratory clinic which then suggested another GP clinic — but she was then told two of its doctors were sick.”So then we rang back to our normal GP and said what are we supposed to do?” she said.”Our GP gave up her lunch break. She agreed to see him. “We took Victor, waited in the car, and she came out to the car to see him and he’s got a double ear infection, he’s got an inflamed throat, he’s got antibiotics and that’s starting to help.”Want more local news?We offer tailored front pages for local audiences in each state and territory. Find out how to opt in for more SA news.Read moreIn June, the Royal Australian College of General Practitioners defended doctors who refused to see young children and babies with respiratory symptoms, saying it was because they did not have enough protective equipment.But AEA acting secretary Josh Karpowicz said experiences like those of Ms Lees were not isolated, and that paramedics were being used as the “gap fillers of the health system”.”This is a common problem our paramedics are seeing on a daily basis — attending patients who can’t access primary health care in the first place,” he said.”It is troubling that people are being forced to resort to an ambulance, if the patient’s condition doesn’t warrant an ambulance or emergency department visit, but there’s nothing in the middle.”The Australian Medical Association (AMA) has also expressed concern, with SA president Michelle Atchison saying sick people should not be deterred from seeking medical help.”Each GP practice is making its own decisions, which is their right,” Dr Atchison said.”But we really need to step back and have some sort of coordinated strategy about how respiratory illnesses are going to be managed in general practice, otherwise people are going to find themselves floating around like this.” AMA SA president Michelle Atchison says patients should not have to resort to emergency care for colds and flus.(ABC Radio Adelaide: Malcolm Sutton)Dr Atchison said part of the solution was determining which GP clinics “have got separate areas where they can see respiratory patients” without putting other patients at risk.”Going to the Women’s and Children’s Hospital, to the emergency department, is not an appropriate thing to do but it’s a place of last resort at the moment. No wonder our hospitals are so clogged,” she said.The AMA and SA Health met today to discuss a plan for when there were more cases in the state.Dr Atchison said SA Health said such a plan was three weeks to a month away.”People need some sort of resource where they can look up where to go rather than do the ring-around and be very distressed and be sick themselves or have sick family members while they’re doing that,” Dr Atchison said.SA Health has been contacted for comment, and referred the ABC to its current guidelines for GPs dealing with patients who have symptoms including fevers and coughs.If symptoms are not severe, doctors are recommended to wear personal protective equipment and conduct car park consultations.In cases involving severe symptoms, SA Health recommends that patients “present to [an] emergency department” or phone for an ambulance.Space to play or pause, M to mute, left and right arrows to seek, up and down arrows for volume.WatchDuration: 8 minutes 10 seconds8m Do we really need booster vaccines for COVID-19?What you need to know about coronavirus:Loading form…

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