News in brief: Unpredictable winter on its way; Rural training the answer to specialist shortage, says RACP; Australian Asthma Handbook updated


5 May 2022

It’s going to be a bad winter

Australia faces a “uniquely unpredictable” winter thanks to the possible combination of COVID-19 and potentially resurgent influenza, National Asthma Council Australia has warned.

With at least 80% of asthma flare ups caused by viral infection, the body says there are concerns about a likely spike in respiratory illness.

It’s encouraged all patients over the age of five, but particularly those with asthma to receive a flu vaccine as soon as possible, as well as a fourth COVID-19 immunisation where eligible.

“The Omicron sub-variant (BA.2) is now Australia’s dominant COVID strain with new versions continuing to emerge right in time for the winter flu season, which is particularly concerning for people with asthma,” says spokesperson Associate Professor Nathan Bartlett.

“In addition, most restrictions on travel have been lifted so other respiratory viruses will begin to circulate and after two years of isolation, population immunity to all respiratory viruses has diminished.”

World Asthma Day was on Tuesday.

Rural training the answer to specialist shortage, says RACP

Additional specialist training places are needed in rural and remote areas to combat doctor shortages outside the major cities, the RACP is arguing.

With well over 100 doctors currently on the waitlist for its registrar program, the college says it is confident of filling any number of extra positions if funded by the Federal Government.

“There is no shortage of interest in these positions – the limiting factor is available government funding,” says RACP president-elect Dr Jacqueline Small.

“We also would like to see commitments of longer-term planning and funding to address regional healthcare shortages that go beyond election cycles.”

It comes after the Coalition announced it would inject an extra $145 million in new funding for rural health if re-elected later this month, mostly focused on additional training places in general practice.

“Any move that increases the capacity of our healthcare system in regional areas is a welcome one,” Dr Small said.

“Unfortunately, there remains a significant shortage of non-GP specialists in many rural and regional areas, and we encourage the Government to expand the program to allow for more positions for specialists to be trained.

The RACP administered around 380 positions annually under the Federal Government’s specialist training program, she added.

Australian Asthma Handbook updated

The Australian Asthma Handbook has been updated, ensuring clinicians have the latest clinical advice on best-practice asthma management.

The new edition includes revised information on managing exercise-induced bronchoconstriction, dosing for single-inhaler combinations of inhaled corticosteroids and long-acting beta2 agonist combinations, and the use of e-cigarettes in smoking cessation.

In a statement about the update, Professor Nick Zwar, chair of the National Asthma Council Australia Guidelines Committee, re-emphasised the importance of ensuring patients use short-acting beta2 agonists correctly.

“We know that many people with sub-optimally controlled asthma don’t use their inhaled corticosteroid consistently and would do far better if they understood how important this is — not just for symptoms, but to prevent potentially serious flare-ups.

“Health professionals need to keep reinforcing this message during patient check-ups and Written Asthma Action Plans are more essential than ever, because everyone’s individual treatment is different and everyone with asthma needs to know exactly what to do when they have symptoms,” he said.

A breakdown of changes to the Handbook is available via the Asthma Handbook website.

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