A GPs legal obligations and COVID-19

The key points from Dr Harry Nespolon’s interview with Avant’s Ms Georgie Haysom, Head of Research Education and Advocacy and Dr Penny Browne, Chief Medical Officer.

  • GPs are not legally obliged to see a patient unless it is an emergency or subject to anti-discrimination laws (if a GP believes seeing a particular patient represents a threat to the health and safety of themselves and/or the staff this cannot be seen as discriminatory).
  • If a GP orders a COVID-19 test to be done elsewhere they are obliged to explain to the patient the importance of having the test and the need to self-isolate. It is not mandatory they need to check the test has been done. They also need to have in place processes by which the result of the test can be reviewed and appropriate action taken, however as coronavirus is a notifiable disease currently action related to a positive test result, including contact tracing is being conducted by the public health units.
  • If a GP is aware that a patient is not complying with self-isolating rules, or a patient is refusing recommended testing there is no mandatory obligation to notify authorities although it is recommended the GP contact their local public health unit for advice.
  • If a GP is aware of a patient with proven COVID-19 not adhering to self-isolation and believes they represent a danger to the health of others, the GP can breach privacy laws and report them to the public health units.
  • The obligation to report a suspected but not proven case of COVID19 varies from state to state. GP are recommended to refer to their individual state’s legislation.
  • Should a patient present in the surgery with COVID-19 symptoms, a GP should terminate the consultation immediately, send the patient for testing, take appropriate sterilising measures, determine who might have had ‘close contact’ with the affected patient (as per guidelines) and call the public health unit for advice.
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