The West

WA's health chief has blamed the State's alarming GP shortage for the surge in flu patients going to hospital emergency departments.

Director-general of health Kim Snowball said the increased demand overflowing to hospitals from the early winter flu season showed WA was critically short of GPs.

"WA has the lowest ratio of GPs to people per capita than any other State," Mr Snowball said.

"This is now more apparent than ever, as more people are choosing to go to an ED rather than wait to get an appointment with their local GP."

Mr Snowball urged people with flu-type illnesses to try to see their GP first before going to Perth's emergency departments, which handled 6500 flu patients last month alone - 2000 more than at the same time last year.

He has written to GPs asking them to look at ways they can deal with the demand, including extending opening hours.

"While some people will require treatment in a hospital emergency department, the vast majority of people with a flu-like illness who are seeking medical advice or are in a high risk group can be adequately cared for by a GP," Mr Snowball said.

Vaccination still offered the best protection against the flu and there was time to get vaccinated for this year's flu strains, he said.

"The 2012 flu vaccines all offer a good level of protection against the flu strains currently circulating in the community and are particularly recommended for people in high-risk groups," Mr Snowball said.

Australian Medical Association WA president Richard Choong called on all health sector workers in contact with patients to be vaccinated against the flu.

Though he opposed forced vaccinations, Dr Choong said it was important people in the sector took some responsibility themselves, including cleaners who often came into contact with patients and had to clean up after them.

"This is not just about their own protection, but to prevent the spread of the infection, and if people in health services become unwell, that in itself increases the strain the system is already under," he said.

"It's up to all of us to do our bit and be vaccinated."

In his own GP practice he offered a free vaccine to his staff as well as their families.

'The vast majority of people . . . can be adequately cared for by a GP.'"Director-general of health

  • Kim Snowball *
The West Australian

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