Dr Mark Harris was the first person to receive a COVID-19 vaccine at GV Health in March.

By Colin MacGillivray

MITCHELL Shire medical clinics have voiced their frustrations at the Federal Government’s COVID-19 vaccine rollout after being swamped with bookings from new patients.

Phase 1b of the rollout campaign began yesterday, with people aged 70 and above, health care workers, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people aged 55 and above, and people with disabilities or underlying medical conditions all eligible.

Phase 1a, which was delivered to frontline health care workers and aged care residents and workers, was orchestrated in the Mitchell Shire region by Goulburn Valley [GV] Health in Shepparton, but phase 1b will be delivered directly by GP clinics under direction from the Federal Government.

As of yesterday afternoon, Kilmore Medical Centre, Seymour Medical Clinic and Goulburn River Group Practice were the only Mitchell Shire clinics to appear on the government’s eligibility checker website, covid-vaccine.healthdirect.gov.au/eligibility.

Kilmore Medical Centre practice manager Ram Lakshmipathy said the clinic had been inundated with calls from new patients wanting to book a vaccination appointment.

“We’re really stretched … we’ve been thrown in the deep end,” he said.

“We’ve had massive demand. We’ve had people who are not regular patients at this clinic calling from far-off places.

“I was under the impression that a few other clinics in the region were coming on board as well. I thought all these clinics were coming on board and that we should jump on as well to help the local community.”

Mr Lakshmipathy said the deluge of calls had created administration headaches for clinic staff.

“It’s not just giving the jab and sending away the patients, we have to do a lot of administration work. That’s why it’s not attractive for the clinics, because there is nothing much in return. Everything costs, and it’s not worth it for them,” he said.

“The modules that the doctors are mandated to do for training are pretty stringent. It takes about five hours even though they say it’s a three-hour course.

“We’ve got limited doctors who are able to do that, and the support [from the government] comes in dribs and drabs.”

Seymour Medical Clinic practice manager Rebecca O’Loughlin said her clinic had been forced to prioritise existing patients as new patients tried to make bookings.

“We’ve been inundated with people who aren’t our patients, which is quite frustrating because we do ideally want people to see their regular GP. They have their health history on file,” she said.

“We’re not turning anyone away by any stretch of the imagination, but we are dealing with our patients first. We’re referring them back to their regular GPs, who eventually will have them in stock themselves if they’re taking part in the rollout.”

Nexus Primary Health chief executive Amanda Mullins said the group’s Wallan GP super clinic had signed up to be part of the vaccine rollout, but had not yet received shipments of the vaccine.

She said she was unsure why the clinic did not appear on the government’s list of participating clinics.

“We’ve received a signed contract, so the GP super clinic should be on there as a vaccination clinic. It has all been approved and we had a site visit from them,” she said.

“We haven’t received any vaccines yet, but as soon as we do we’re good to go. The staff have been trained.

“We’ve been getting a lot of calls, and we’ve been telling people that as soon as it’s up and running we’ll let them know. We are 100 per cent committed to assisting the community and supporting our local partners.”

Kilmore District Health chief executive David Naughton said the health service would continue to follow the direction of GV Health and was not included in phase 1b of the rollout.

“The GPs who have been asked to start delivering phase 1b and then 2a and 2b for the broader community are part of the Commonwealth process. GP clinics are run by the commonwealth, and it’s a commonwealth program. Our line of sight on this sits with the public health unit [at GV Health] in Shepparton,” he said.

“Our job will be to make sure our residents and our 1a staff have access to the vaccine, so we’re expecting that to come in the next little while.”

Mr Naughton said he understood the frustration of clinics in Mitchell Shire, but said the best thing people could do was remain calm.

“Despite the challenges – and it is a massive process to vaccinate tens of thousands of people – from a risk perspective, it’s low at the moment,” he said.

“There’s no known community transmission, there are good structures and processes in place and we’ve maintained a good standard of screening and testing, so we remain in a low-risk area.”