Coronavirus webinar

10 February 2020

On Tuesday 4 February the College hosted a member webinar to update GPs on the current state of play regarding coronavirus.

Dr Juliet Rumball-Smith, the Ministry of Health’s Clinical Chief Advisor, joined College President Sam Murton for an hour to talk through the Ministry’s latest advice. They discussed symptoms, diagnosis,  managing patients’ questions, and what happens if a patient is suspected of having the virus.

Juliet referred attendees to the Ministry’s coronavirus webpages – the front page of these is updated daily and tells you if there has been any change in advice or status of the virus in New Zealand. It also has several resources for general practitioners. The key documents include: Interim Advice for Health Professionals, the Primary Care triage checklist, and the Primary Care quick reference guide. She stressed that this information is being regularly updated, so it is useful and important to keep checking this source. 

Attendees submitted top of mind questions for Juliet to answer. Many of these focused on the risks associated with patients who have recently returned from China, the use of personal protective equipment (and its availability), and what ‘isolation’ means in practice.

Juliet explained the quick reference guides detail the epidemiological and clinical criteria which should alert a GP to a suspected case of coronavirus. She emphasised that, because this is a notifiable disease, as soon as a case is suspected GPs must contact their local Medical Officer of Health (MOH) in their DHB’s public health unit. The MOH will be able to provide immediate advice on the next steps, including testing. You should not take any swabs before talking to them. The MOH is also available if you have questions about whether or not a patient meets the definition of a ‘suspected case’. 

The guide covers the additional protection equipment needed to care for a patient suspected of having the virus. This will only be needed if you have a suspected case, but the basics required are a surgical face mask, eye protection, and fluid-resistant gloves and long-sleeved gown/apron. Juliet also confirmed that supply of personal protective equipment (PPE) is currently managed by DHBs.

The immediate isolation requirements are similar to the standard precautions GPs take when dealing with any viral respiratory disease. It may be useful to put a notice on the practice’s front door asking patients who may think they’ve got the virus not to come inside, but to call and talk to a doctor. There is also an opportunity to put a pop-up notice on the Manage My Health portal.

Sam Murton thanked Juliet for coming to the College directly, and both agreed there was an opportunity to host future webinars on this topic. Members will be advised about this once details are finalised. All questions submitted by attendees have been passed on to the Ministry to consider when updating its online material.

Due to the quickly evolving nature of the information and advice the Ministry is providing, our webinar can’t be recorded and distributed. Again, members are encouraged to visit the Ministry’s web pages for the latest advice.

The College’s Medical Director Bryan Betty is also contributing to the Ministry’s response, providing a GP perspective and input to its coronavirus expert advisory group.