NNSWLHD CEO Wayne Jones, North Coast Primary Health Network (NCPHN) Acting Chief Executive Sharyn White, Goonellabah Medical Centre patient Rodney Johnson, and Page MP Kevin Hogan.
NNSWLHD CEO Wayne Jones, North Coast Primary Health Network (NCPHN) Acting Chief Executive Sharyn White, Goonellabah Medical Centre patient Rodney Johnson, and Page MP Kevin Hogan. Jasmine Burke

Protecting the Northern Rivers from 'dreaded flu season'

THE recent cold May weekend has signalled the start of the dreaded flu season, which saw 29,000 Australians admitted to hospital in a record flu season in 2017 - but this year a strategy will make winter better for patients.

The Winter Strategy started last year to tackle the ramifications of the cold season and has come back bigger and better in 2018.

It's something "which should have been done 35 years ago”, according to Northern NSW Local Health District boss Wayne Jones.

The strategy a joint project where the health district, North Coast Primary Health Network 21 general practices in Northern NSW work together to better respond to the surge in healthcare demand over winter, and keep patients at high risk of flu as well as possible.

It emphasises:

  • Ensuring at-risk patients have priority access to their general practice
  • Actively engaging with patients (through phone calls and home visits) and taking action early if their health deteriorates
  • Stepping up patient self-management through Sick Day Action plans and other health coaching
  • Coordinating hospital staff, Chronic Disease Management Teams and general practice staff to communicate effectively and ensure the best management of vulnerable patients.

Goonellabah Medical Centre patient Rodney Johnson signed up again this year after trialling it in 2017.

Mr Johnston has a chronic condition which puts him at higher risk of hospitalisation.

"Before the program started you came to your GP and you left with your subscription and that was your medical services, but nowadays I have a group of people - doctors and nurses... and I have that personal reassurance and confidence they put my health first and they are there to help me,” Mr Johnson said.

"As well as having chronic pain all the time it's really reassuring to know you're not in this battle by yourself.

"I've received closer attention to my chronic condition and this has stopped me from having to go to hospital, and gives me priority access (to GPs).”

NCPHN acting chief executive Sharyn White said the 2018 Winter Strategy would build on the success of last year.

"It's about providing extra resources so that these (high risk) patients and their carers are supported at their general practice and by the Local Health District's Chronic Disease Health team,” Ms White said.

"This includes home visits, regular phone contact and health coaching for the patient.

"This is about making the experience of winter better for patients who are likely to end up in hospital if they don't take good care of themselves.”

Mr Jones said last year was the busiest winter on record in terms of hospital admissions.

"The Winter Strategy helped us to target care to our most vulnerable patients,” he said.

"We're looking forward once again to partnering with NCPHN and our local cohort of general practitioners to ensure these patients get the targeted care they need over this winter season.”

The 2018 Winter Strategy is being supported by a consumer campaign encouraging at risk groups to get a flu vaccination and messages about good respiratory hygiene.



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