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Annual Report 2021

Achievements 2020 - 2021

COVID-19 Response

The past 12 months has been tied to responding to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, with the level of involvement growing exponentially over the year. At its core, the main functions Primary Health Networks undertook were:

  • Continuing to assist in the distribution of PPE
  • Organising, facilitating and delivering training for general practice and the broader care workforce
  • Facilitating the vaccination roll out to General Practice across the region.

As the needs of primary care and the community shifted during the pandemic, the Primary Health Network responded to meet those requirements.

Vaccination Rollout

Since its initial launch in March 2021, the vaccination rollout gathered pace, in conjunction with additional layers of complexity as more providers and options became available. In line with a key part of our role, we continued to strongly advocate for the importance of general practice in the ongoing rollout and take the feedback we receive from local GPs to the Department of Health. This included ongoing practice support through a dedicated vaccination mailbox to provide bespoke support.

While Primary Heath Networks assisted in the primary care aspects of planning and coordination of the National COVID-19 Vaccination Program, we have been able to offer local solutions through partnerships between participating general practices, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Community Controlled Health Services (ACCHS), Local Health Districts (LHDs) and community leaders.

In our region we saw innovative solutions proposed and implemented from general practices in current areas of concern, including on the Central Coast and Maitland where local general practitioners have identified established sites where they are able to administer the vaccine in large numbers while continuing to support their communities with continuity of general practice care.

Residential Aged Care Facilities (RACFs)

Our liaison with Residential Aged Care Facilities (RACFs) increased over the past 12 months and the Primary Health Network remained vigilant and worked with RACFs across our region, including ongoing outbreak preparation and vaccination for staff, including collaboration with RACF hosted hub locations in Umina, Morriset, Port Stephens, Mayfield, Cessnock, Taree, Armidale, Inverell, Glen Innes, Narrabri and Gunnedah.

We continued to monitor situations via Capacity Tracker and regular contact with facilities across the region.

Resources to manage outbreaks were made available in the Resource Centre of the Capacity Tracker for quick reference.

The PHN also undertook an expedited EOI process to support the prioritisation of residential aged care staff vaccinations. We received a positive response with over 70 responses across the region.

Community Messaging

An ongoing trend during the pandemic was that both media and community has sought out the Primary Health Network as a trusted source of timely and importantly, accurate information during times of outbreaks and as the vaccination rollout gathered pace.

Our peoplebank COVID-19 testing site pages were updated by the HealthPathways team in as close to as real time as possible and was being used as the source of truth for testing information by local media outlets such as the ABC and Newcastle Herald, as well as the Central Coast LHD in their social media updates.

Local GPs were engaged to record community messaging regarding the vaccination rollout, supply information which has been well received and shared widely.

The “When Can I Roll Up My Sleeve?” campaign has reached over 360,000 people through digital media, and more through traditional media coverage, including GP talent across all sub regions.

Keeping the Region Informed

The Primary Health Network continued with regular primary care updates that included information specific to our region.

HealthPathways experienced ongoing high utilisation rates and our COVID-19 livestream schedule of information updates for GPs, Practice Nurses and Practice Staff provided a vital conduit of information to our region and included pandemic updates, as well as topic-specific webinars and vaccination information.

Communication with state and federal MPs was ongoing in order to ensure they were aware of local developments, particularly in relation to the important role local GPs continued to play in the vaccine rollout, as well as to clarify roles and responsibilities related to COVID-19 response.

Telehealth Support

The Primary Health Network implemented a suite of initiatives to support the increase of telehealth usage in primary care, for both clinicians and consumers.

Additional telehealth support was provided to primary care with the setup of a dedicated Help Desk to troubleshoot and resolve any issues while Telehealth consultations are being conducted. By contacting this dedicated Help Desk the support personnel can identify the nature or cause of the issue and assist

with remediation and if necessary work with normal IT support to rectify certain issues.

Wellbeing support for primary care

COVID-19 has had a significant worldwide impact. The implications for our Primary Health Network region have been significant, with a range of access and activity impacts. Those tasked with caring for our populations have reported high levels of distress, and anxiety.

Frontline receptionists, practice managers, Allied Health Practitioners and GPs all indicated high levels of stress, uncertainty about the future and severe impacts on caseloads.

A multi-faceted approach was developed to provide practical and immediate supports for the primary care sector through a suite of mental health and wellbeing initiatives.

Wellbeing Education

Over 2000 primary care professionals attended or viewed the Primary Health Network wellbeing webinars throughout 2020-21.

Wellbeing webinars were developed on a variety of topics including ‘Share an Hour on Resilience for General Practice’ which provided tools to help increase resilience and wellbeing.

The ‘Surviving Lockdown Meltdowns in General Practice’ webinar was also extremely popular which assisted participants understand the psychological and social factors that seem to be producing more meltdown during the pandemic.

Other wellbeing webinars included ‘The Chrysalis Wellbeing’ webinars to enhance the mental wellbeing of primary care health professionals and a practical guide to meditation was delivered through the ‘Release the Load’ seminars. Financial wellbeing was also covered with practical advice from financial experts about riding out the financial storm and supports that were available for business.

Wellbeing Grants

Almost 70 per cent of general practices and 100 Allied health providers took advantage of small wellbeing grants to support activities that promoted wellness and resilience amongst the workforce and were supported by the distribution of accompanying mental health resources.

Whilst small in nature the funding provided a big impact with a range of activities such as team bowling days, picnics, breakfast, and lunches which all provided the opportunity for staff to interact and reconnect outside of the busy general practice environment.

GP Long Lunch

As restrictions momentarily lifted in NSW, we were fortunate to be able to host our inaugural GP Long Lunch attended by fifty of the region’s GPs.

Located on the beautiful NSW Central Coast, the full day program for GPs included experts speaking on the myths of wellbeing, and wellbeing initiatives including things GPs could do to enhance their lives.

A lively panel discussion explored General Practitioner stresses and discussed seeking help, and barriers to care.

This innovative approach received rave reviews and planning is underway to cement this as an annual event.

Member Assistance Program (MAP)

Our PHN extended its internal Employee Assistance Program to the broader primary care workforce under the badge of the MAP.

Employees, and their families, from General Practice and Allied Health practices can access three free voluntary confidential counselling sessions. The use of this service has been steadily growing and will remain open for the broader sector for the foreseeable future.

Connecting through Peer Groups

Personal and more informal connections promoted wellbeing for the region’s health practitioners through a series of Primary Health Network supported Peer Groups, including a Hey Mama group for GP mothers and babies/young children, and Art Based Care group for GPs.

Coaching for Success

Another approach to supporting primary care workforce the Primary Health Network adopted was the implementation of specialised professional coaching programs.

Coaching programs were in place for GPs, Practice Managers and Allied Health practitioners with three different models implemented to suit the cohorts’ specific needs.

COVID-19 Showcase: Sharing Success and Supporting Recovery

One of the silver linings from the pandemic has been the increased enthusiasm and willingness for primary care providers to collaborate and work together.

In May we brought providers together to learn from each other by sharing the challenges, triumphs, and new ways of working that have had to be implemented as a result of COVID-19.

Our showcase was an opportunity to see and hear about the efforts, the innovations, the response to adversity that came from the primary care sector’s response to the pandemic.

We heard many amazing stories and we were extremely thankful to the providers who took the time out from their busy schedules to share them with us.

2021 Primary Care Quality and Innovation Awards

Our inaugural Primary Care Quality and Innovation Awards was successfully held in June where we recognised and celebrated the significant achievements of our primary care providers during an incredibly challenging time for our sector.

Six categories were available for nomination and outlined below is a summary of the award categories with details on the finalists and winners.

Awards Catergories and Winners

Patients First Award: Awarded to practices, health centres and/or service providers that put people and communities first in their practice: they demonstrate engagement strategies to support best practice outcomes for the centre, the community, and their patients.

Winner: Complete Health at Crossways Terrigal who introduced a dedicated Aged Care Co-ordinator. The coordinator has created a relationship between the patient and the practice that is built on teamwork. The patient is a partner in their own health care and works with their GP, pharmacist, Allied Health professional and other providers to support best practice outcomes.

Closing the Gap Award: Awarded to the practice, health centre and/or service provider that demonstrates being responsive to the diversity of, and differences in, our communities to address health inequalities.

Winner: Hunter Primary Care’s ‘Yantiin Kalabara-5 ways to a healthier you’ program that supports the prevention and early intervention of chronic disease in Indigenous communities.

Supporting Patients through Technology Award:

Awarded to the practice, health centre and/or service provider that demonstrates leadership in the use of technology to support their patient cohort.

Winner: Blackbutt Doctors Surgery through their implementation of a electronic booking and check in system that was as integral part of the practice’s COVID safe plan.

The system allowed quick responsive to changes in COVID-19 risk levels to keep the waiting room and staff safe and helped patients to book the right appointment with the right person at the right time.

Primary Care Innovation Award: Awarded to the practice, health centre and/or service provider that demonstrates outstanding innovation in primary care. Winner: General Practices of Armidale and Uralla for welcoming over 800 refugees of Ezidi background from northern Iraq. Practices were able to demonstrate considerable care and sensitivity in developing an understanding of the impact of exposure to conflict, torture and trauma and a commitment to providing health care to this highly vulnerable group of people.

Primary Care Leader Award (Service Provider):

Awarded to the practice, health centre and/or service provider that has best demonstrated innovation and leadership in primary care and/or the values of respect, innovation, accountability, integrity, cooperation, and recognition.

Winner: ATUNE Health Centres, by demonstrating a genuinely integrated approach to healthcare and a lifestyle medical focus. With their newly constructed purpose built facility, they are co-ordinating 18 different health modalities where they are successfully implementing many new models of care.

Primary Care Leader Award (Individual): Awarded to the individual that has best demonstrated innovation and leadership in primary care and/or the values of respect, innovation, accountability, integrity, cooperation, and recognition

Winner: Dr Lee Fong, for his enormous workload and advocacy during the pandemic. Lee tirelessly campaigned for improved testing availability, public awareness via local media, system improvement at State and National levels, GP education and liaison and his diligence and leadership has been appreciated by local GPs.

Live Better on the Central Coast

As part of the Central Coast General Practice Incentive Fund an integrated marketing strategy was developed to assist in the implementation of a coordinated approach to recruitment, retention and succession planning and wellbeing for GPs on the Central Coast.

The Primary Health Network initially worked with the Central Coast GP Advisory Group to conduct focus groups and co-design a marketing strategy that focused on local GP champions selling the benefits of living and working on the Central Coast. Three GPs, Dr Ameeta Patel, Dr Elly Warren, Dr Con Mafola and one GP registrar, Dr Vivian Ellis (now a fully credentialled GP) volunteered to participate in the marketing campaign.

As part of the project a self-serve jobs vacancy portal was created and integrated with the new “Live Better on the Central Coast” website

Better Health for the Bush

In partnership with the Hunter New England Local Health District and the University of New England, the Primary Health Network consulted widely across the New England to design a three-year evaluated pilot of three sub-regional rural networks that feature multiple medical and Allied Health practitioners within a geographic area coming together to work on common objectives, with communities, health providers, local government and non-government agencies.

Underpinning the proposal are:

  • Local GP leads
  • Contracted GPs (under optional contracts), and
  • Local coordination, in order to improve GP and allied health and nurse practitioner recruitment and retention, sustain primary care and procedural services, and improve community access to services.

First Nations Health

To strengthen our work in First Nations Health, the Primary Health Network commissioned Kamilaroi / Gamilaraay artist, Dennis Golding, to produce artwork that represents the work, programs and services provided for First Nations communities within the Hunter New England and Central Coast regions.

The artwork references traditional and contemporary practices of health, medicine and gatherings between communities to share the knowledge, experiences and stories for providing better health outcomes.

The branding provides an extended visualisation of the natural resources and materials that identifies the cultural and modern practices of life and health sustainability.

This includes, water, plants, flowers, boomerangs and the coolamon. The coolamon references the cultural practice and historical use of a natural tool that carries many materials and foods - a way of sustaining health and wellbeing for communities.

Local Insight

Our Clinical Councils and Community Advisory Committees provide our PHN with locally relevant perspectives on community health issues and over the past 12 months, the groups' continued input has been appreciated more than ever.

Our groups have played an integral part of informing the PHN's COVID-19 response mechanisms and messaging at the local level, including taking on additional responsibility to guide localised COVID-19 recovery approaches and issues.

Central Coast Clinical Council
Dr Karen Douglas | Chairperson
Elizabeth Ward | Board Representative
Dr Natalie Cordowiner
Veronica Vogel
Jackie Robinson
Jenny Martin
Jordan Fitzgibbon
Reginald Davis
Central Coast Community Advisory Committee
Geoffrey Forrester | CHAIRPERSON
Graham McGuinness OAM | BOARD REPRESENTATIVE
John Haydon
Simon Coutts-Bain
Sandra Shorrock
Vickie Parry
Keiran Booth
Bobby Redman
Hunter Metro Clinical Council
Dr Fiona Van Leeuwin | CHAIRPERSON
Dr Anita Watts | BOARD REPRESENTATIVE
Chris Barnett
Denise Lyons
Dr Lee Fong
Mike Shelley
Kylie Bailey
John Ward
Dr Abe Matthew
Karen Harrison
Hunter Manning Community Advisory Committee
Kaye Duffy OAM | CHAIRPERSON
Bradley Twynham | BOARD REPRESENTATIVE
Glenn Ferrero
Helen Belcher
David Series
Chris Harle
Anna Burley
Samantha Huntley
Jodie Stewart
Mydie Keegan
Hunter New England Rural Clinical Council
Dr Maree Puxty | CHAIRPERSON
Dr Grahame Deane AM | BOARD REPRESENTATIVE
Dr David Lockart
Andrew Mahony
Anne Galloway
Edwina Sharrock
Ros Rose
Warren Ansell
Dr Emma Moffatt
Dr Diana Coote
Hunter New England Rural Community Advisory Committee
Wayne Chaffey | CHAIRPERSON
Dr David Briggs AM | BOARD REPRESENTATIVE
Janelle Speed
Colleen Fuller
Anna Burley
Rebecca Caskey
Keli McDonald
Nathan Blacklock
Mary Hollingworth
Professor Kim Usher
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