'Everyone is irritable': Covid-19 at the doctor's practice

At the community health frontline, GP practice staff are battle-weary and see increasing Covid complacency.

Covid masked person exasperated
GP practices are 'battle weary' and working long hours.

Burnout and exhaustion for staff at GP practices featured in a national survey by University of Auckland researchers after the latest Covid-19 flare-up.

Staff “are battle weary, patients are ‘Covid complacent’ and everyone is irritable,” according to one of the 231 doctors, practice nurses, nurse practitioners and practice managers who answered the questions.

The survey, the fifth since Covid-19 infected New Zealand in February, was conducted over the seven days from August 21, a period when Auckland was at lockdown level 3 and the rest of the nation was at level 2. “Last week, a patient kicked me and threatened to kill me and shoot me because I asked them to wear a mask (turns out they had had viral symptoms, too),” said one respondent.

Professor Felicity Goodyear-Smith of the Faculty of Medical and Health Sciences said extra support may be needed for staff facing unsustainable levels of stress. Goodyear-Smith also highlighted the threat posed by patients failing to disclose respiratory symptoms, one of the Covid-19 indicators, until they were in the doctor’s office.

“People need to disclose symptoms when they phone or at reception and not wait until later for everyone’s safety,” she said. “Let’s educate the public on this.”

Her comments came after 41 per cent of those surveyed reported that patients with respiratory symptoms sometimes or frequently presented without telling the practice reception. Survey responses highlighted Covid-19’s toll on the vulnerable – including Māori and Pacific people, the elderly, the poor, the mentally ill, and the unemployed – and the financial strain on medical practices.

The news was not all negative. One practice was asked to set up a testing clinic at 9 am the next morning. The survey respondent reported: “We tested 800 people that day and the next – all the staff in the practice stepped up and were amazing. Excellent team work.”

Auckland’s level 3 lockdown was “easier 2nd time around – all systems in place, e-scripts – staff up to speed and not so anxious about risk,” said another. Patients were “understanding” and happy to accommodate any changes because of Covid-19, a third reported.

Media inquiries

Paul Panckhurst|Media adviser
paul.panckhurst@auckland.ac.nz, 022 032 8475