South Auckland GPs say they are preparing for a surge in Omicron cases, but there needs to be more coordination from the Ministry of Health and district health boards to help them deal with the next wave of the pandemic.
Modelling released by Counties Manukau District Health Board last week predicted up to 1800 cases a day in the Auckland region at the peak of an outbreak of the new Covid-19 variant.
In November last year South Auckland GPs said burnout was a growing problem for the profession as doctors struggled to cope with increased workloads monitoring Covid-19 patients self-isolating at home.
Dr Matire Harwood works at the Papakura Marae Health Clinic and said the number of patients it was monitoring with Delta had tapered off since late last year, but she knew case numbers were once again going to grow.
"Now that Omicron is on the horizon, the tide has gone out and we're waiting for the tsunami," she said. "As more people move into the community with the virus we will need more support.
"Better communication is needed, so we know where people are and how we can support people at home."
Papakura GP Dr Primla Khar shared Harwood's concerns.
"I really fear this time around that more healthcare workers will be affected and will have to isolate themselves. And that means extra pressure on those who are still working and that's what we're bracing ourselves for."
Khar said many primary healthcare providers in South Auckland were already understaffed and that meant they would not have the capacity to cope.
"Primary healthcare has been the gatekeeper during this pandemic and our practices have continually been under pressure since last year," she said.
"And it's not just the doctors, but the practice managers, the nurses, the receptionists, we're all a team and it's been a massive burden on all of them."
Royal New Zealand College of General Practitioners medical director Dr Bryan Betty said it was important that the Ministry of Health and DHBs provide extra support for GPs who will have to deal with more people isolating in the community.
"A lot of cases will be moderate and they will be able to self isolate at home with support. But we will also need to support those who are more vulnerable and might have adverse outcomes."
He said Omicron could also add to the workloads of those on the frontline and put extra pressure on primary healthcare providers who are already operating at or near capacity.
Betty said different parts of the country will also be affected in different ways and a one size fits all approach will not work.
"There are some practices like the Papakura Marae Health Clinic that will have to deal with a higher burden of cases and the ministry will need to be aware of that," Betty said. "And that's going to be the challenge."
A Ministry of Health spokesman said it recognised the important role primary healthcare providers have played on the frontline of the Covid-19 pandemic response.
"We will continue to work with the primary care sector to ensure it has the support it needs to provide clinical care for those with Covid-19 and that their work can focus on those who need additional clinical support.
"As we increasingly care for those with Covid-19 in the community, there will be additional wraparound services that will reduce the workload on general practice, including through welfare and community providers."
The spokesman said further details are expected to be announced later this week.
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