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Poster Abstracts

Rural health workforce response to Australia’s 2019/20 natural disasters and emergencies and in particular COVID-19.

Author:

Miken Edwards

NSW Rural Doctors Network, Australia, AU
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Abstract

Introduction: Non-metropolitan Australia has been heavily impacted by natural disaster and emergencies; drought, bushfire, floods and COVID-19. The New South Wales Rural Doctors Network (RDN), and partners convened to develop and employ health workforce strategies to support the primary health care responses to natural disaster and emergencies in rural NSW.

Aims, Objectives, Theory and Methods:  A range of activities were conducted including the establishment of an inter-sectoral working group consisting of 35 government and non-government health workforce and service agencies, a stakeholder survey, a rapid literature review, and broad consultation aimed at:

•Understanding the impacts and trends of 2020/21 natural disasters and emergencies on NSW’s rural primary health services and workforce sustainability

•Identifying successful strategies that would support and enable rural primary health services and workforce throughout the natural disaster and emergency period

•Recommending strategies for future planning.

Results: A number of key initiatives were established as a result of the partnership group including: the NSW Rural Primary Virtual Health Workforce and Matching Service, #RuralHealthTogether (a website to support the wellbeing of rural health practitioners), financial support for health practices, technology enabled service support and a jointly produced Natural Disaster and Emergency Learnings Report. Thematic data analysis across the crisis timeline identified two main categories a number of consistent recurrent issues that were present regardless of the nature and type of the natural disaster or emergency in addition to those that were disaster or outbreak specific. Recurrent issues included factors that contribute to the mental health and wellbeing of health professionals; practice sustainability; activation and implementation of digital capabilities; mechanisms to engage and upskill non-clinical staff; and continuing professional development and training. Time or outbreak specific issues included primary health engagement in localised emergency responses; access to appropriate ‘tools of trade’ e.g., PPE; accessing and onboarding surge workforce in the case of state border restrictions or to manage the COVID-19 vaccination roll-out; and primary health’s role in medium- and long- term recovery.

Conclusions: The cooperation and coordination of 35 government and non-government agencies led to a useful infrastructure to support the crisis response to COVID-19 and other natural disasters and emergencies in an integrated way. Benefits included consistency, and reduction of duplicated or mixed messaging into the sector during times of crisis; coordination of support responses locally and regionally; sharing of resources and collation of localised data to inform coordination and planning.

Implications for applicability/transferability, sustainability, and limitations:  Stronger primary health engagement in emergency response pre-planning is required to ensure maximum benefit and use of established resources and infrastructure. This case study shows the value and applicability of an integrated response to supporting localised primary health services and workforce to respond to natural disasters and emergencies.

How to Cite: Edwards M. Rural health workforce response to Australia’s 2019/20 natural disasters and emergencies and in particular COVID-19.. International Journal of Integrated Care. 2022;22(S3):52. DOI: http://doi.org/10.5334/ijic.ICIC22282
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Published on 04 Nov 2022.

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