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General practice survey supports sustainability

Thursday 07 April 2022

From Paul Rowe, WellSouth Practice Network Director:

Since the end of January, WellSouth has surveyed general practices in Southland and Otago each week. (Now, twice weekly.) This started at the time Covid was first detected on the South Island and it was clear Covid cases in the community would increase rapidly, with the vast, vast majority being cared for at home, with assessments and medical advice provided by general practices teams and WellSouth.  

There’s been a consistently strong response to the survey, with 60 to 70 (of 80) practices replying each week.

Clear understanding

While WellSouth communicates regularly with general practices (in most cases, most days) our aim with the weekly practice survey is ensure we are current, consistent, and clear in our understanding of how practices are managing with Covid in the community, to address any issues proactively, and, ultimately, provide support where it’s needed. We are always mindful of the sustainability of the practice network and now more than ever.

For example, if practices have indicated they need help from the WellSouth clinician’s network for assessment or support of Covid positive patients managing at home, we have been able to provide this help in many instances.

The short (five question) survey asks:

  • how busy is your practice currently,
  • do you have enough staff for business as usual during normal practice hours,
  • for the coming week do you have enough staff to manage
  • what is the overall mood at the practice
  • any other comments.

Responses are on a scale and based on replies and in some cases follow on conversations with practices,  WellSouth practice network teams assign a status level  ( Level 1, Green Readiness; Level 2, Yellow Initial impact; Level 3, Orange Medium impact; Level 4, Red Severe impact).

For the past two weeks the level has been at 3  - we have kept it at this level this week. (This is as high a level we have experienced and if current trends continue, it’s likely the level would go down, rather than any higher.)

Busy but still delivering care

To no one’s surprise – we are hearing that practices are very busy and it’s not easing up yet. Covid care and acute presentations are the priority and, in some cases, routine care is being postponed if it is not critical. We understand from our colleagues cross the country that this is what general practices and community health providers are reporting everywhere.

With the start of the 2022 influenza vaccination campaign, practices will be even busier. However, the flu vaccine, along with other routine vaccination programmes, including childhood vaccines and Covid boosters, are a priority for keeping patients and wnau well. Practices know their patients best and they know how to manage services to best support the needs of the communities they serve.

In terms of mood, practice teams acknowledge being tired and while there have been cases of Covid among practice staff and/or times when staff have had to isolate as household contacts, practices have planned for this and are prepared to manage. This has included practices helping each other with after-hours services in some localities or sometimes sharing Covid caseloads. There is a real collegiality among the practices and community providers in this region – we are very fortunate. Practice teams have also taken extra steps to make best use of resources, for example, delivering services virtually – by video or telehealth – where that’s appropriate. This ensures more patients can receive the care they need without delay.

WellSouth offers as much practical assistance as possible to allow practices to focus on the current priorities while ensuring patients are not at risk. No practices have had to close their doors for any reason, including due to Covid.


Practice teams have demonstrated resilience and commitment to their communities all through this outbreak. Southerners should be reassured they are in safe hands with general practice and primary care services in this region. We would ask for people to understand that practice teams are very busy and doing all they can to continue to deliver services – so we ask, please, for your patience and understanding.  

We’ve heard some lovely stories of patients sharing notes of encouragement and occasionally baked goods to say a special thanks to their practice teams and we are very grateful for these acts of kindness. They mean a lot. 



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