On Tuesday 10 March the College hosted a third member webinar on the coronavirus outbreak. President Sam Murton was joined by the Ministry of Health’s Chief Clinical Advisor Dr Juliet Rumball-Smith and Dr Richard Chen - an urgent care physician who worked with Wuhan and Diamond Princess evacuees quarantined at the Whangaparaoa Defence Force base last month.

Richard and Juliet answered member questions about isolation, how the virus spreads, the case definition, use of personal protective equipment (PPE) and testing.

Juliet stressed that now is the time for general practices to get prepared for COVID-19. She reminded the 300+ attendees that the Ministry is continuously updating its advice to health professionals, and there is a wide range of resources available on its COVID-19 website.

That said, GPs can also contact their local Medical Officer of Health for advice. Healthline is designed more specifically for public queries. Juliet emphasised that if a patient who is very unwell calls Healthline, they will be directed to hospital. Healthline will not send any suspected case to a primary care clinic without first talking to that patient’s GP to work out a testing and care plan.

The College understands the Ministry is in the process of setting up a dedicated helpline for health professionals – we will share more information about this as it comes to hand.

The Ministry of Health Covid-19 website. This is updated regularly

0800 358 5453

As a health professional we may have concerns about our own health while we’ve caring for the health of others. The following are documents for consideration. If you have any concerns about your work environment and your personal risk, please discuss this with your employer/PHO/colleagues.

The following websites contain useful information about being safe and responsible.

Medical Council of New Zealand

Australian Medical Association

Otago University Ethics

Public Health Expert blog

There are several factors to consider if you are required to take time off work either for self-isolation or due to Covid-19 or another infection. There are work related/employment issues and infection/wellbeing issues to consider, as well as thinking about the protection of others. Healthline and public health unit staff are regularly in contact with people who have been asked to self-isolate.

Business and sick leave information is available here

Business and sick leave information is available here

The Ministry of Health website contains advice for people returning to New Zealand from overseas, but the same advice applies whatever your reason for self-isolating. If College members do self-isolate, we encourage them to let us know by emailing covid19@rnzcgp.org.nz so we can keep a nationwide record of those affected and offer GP to GP support.

The Ministry of Health is the ‘one source of truth’ for COVID-19 advice, however public health units around the country will advise where and how swabbing can be done in your community.

View more information here.

Nebulisers are aerosol generating and could spread COVID-19 if it is present in your practice. Therefore the Ministry of Health advises against the use of nebulisers in general practices at this time.

Ministry of Health guidance is based on World Health Organisation recommendations. If dealing with or taking a swab from a suspected case, then PPE should be worn. If a patient is sick enough to require hospital assessment or hospitalization, then swabs should not be taken in the community setting. Instead, the patient should be referred to hospital and your public health officer notified.

Standard droplet and contact precautions include:

  • gloves
  • surgical face mask
  • disposable, fluid resistant gown
  • eye protection

There are several videos that show how to put PPE on and off. Here is one option.

The Ministry of Health is looking at establishing a helpline for health professionals. In the meantime, the Ministry’s website contains the most accurate and up-to-date information available.

View more information here.

Patients should be treated clinically. If you suspect someone has possible COVID-19 pneumonia it is recommended that they are assessed in hospital (whether you think they need to be hospitalised or not).

Healthline has its normal line and the new, dedicated COVID-19 line. People who call with upper respiratory tract symptoms are assessed for travel history and/or contact with a confirmed case (see current case definition). If they are deemed to be a ‘suspected’ case then the Healthline clinician will ring that person’s usual GP and discuss how swabbing can be done. If a practice or clinician is unable to provide the service, they should work with local organisations (other practices, your PHO, or DHB) to establish a pathway to ensure patients can be assessed safely.