The Rural New South Wales (NSW) Natural Disaster and Emergency General Practice and Primary Health Partnership Group (the NDE Group) was established to develop and employ strategies to support healthcare responses to the continuing natural disasters and emergencies in rural NSW. The NDE Group has over 35 state and federal government, peak body and non-government health agencies contributing with the aim of:
- sharing local, regional, state and national intel to inform strategies
- developing and implementing strategies to support healthcare responses in impacted communities and regions
- minimising duplication and maximising available resources in provision of these strategies
- improving consistency in messaging, education and coordination between agencies and their member networks in the community
- sharing resources and data between agencies
- supporting resource decision-making.
The NDE Group is now into its fourth rotation to respond to the northern NSW floods. It originally met in response to the 2019–20 bushfires and was then reconvened for the 2020 COVID-19 outbreak and subsequently the 2021 COVID-19 Delta outbreak. The NDE Group has identified several recurrent issues within natural disaster and emergency environments that contribute to delayed or potentially inadequate timing of responses. These issues invariably impact the mental health and wellbeing of service providers, health professionals and affected communities, compounding the challenges for continuing care and access to workforce, medical supplies, technology and PPE. These factors include:
- duplicated or mixed messaging into, and by, the sector during times of crisis
- coordination of support responses locally and regionally
- unwillingness or unsureness on how to share resources
- collation of localised data to inform coordination and planning.
The importance of dedicated resources, tailored to the unique situations of rural and remote communities, has been highlighted to meet complex local needs stemming from multiple emergency situations. Key activities and outcomes from the NDE Group have included:
- Health service and health workforce situation reports to government and disaster response managers.
- Coordinated and centralised support to practices and clinicians such as:
- financial support
- establishment of the Surge Health Workforce Register and Matching Service (SWARM), to help healthcare professionals get to where they are needed most (nswrdn.com.au/site/covid-19)
- establishment of #RuralHealthTogether, an initiative that aggregates initiatives that provide rural health professionals with self-care support and access to wellbeing-related information, both for themselves and for their patients (ruralhealthtogether.info)
- Advocacy to government on key issues and challenges being faced in disaster areas such as:
- adaptions to grant processes to make them easier to use and access from disaster areas
- support for the wellbeing of rural health practitioners
- equipment and infrastructure needs
- practice sustainability matters.
- Studies to understand disaster response mechanisms and agency preparedness.
We expect there will continue to be challenges arising from disasters and emergencies into the future. To support stronger understanding of the issues faced in disaster areas and knowledge sharing, the NDE Group produced the 2021 NSW Natural Disaster and Emergency Learnings Recommendations Report (nswrdn.com.au/site/nder-report). The report also acknowledges all participating agencies.
The NDE Group’s ongoing work and learning will reinforce the value of cooperation and support for the primary healthcare system. We will continue to invest our time and resources in finding ways to provide the service and support needed by our healthcare system to continue to provide world-class care.
If you would like further information, please contact [email protected]