Coronavirus: GPs report difficulties referring patients for PCR tests

Doctors say national portal for booking tests is ‘very slow or not functioning’

Demand for testing is so large that patients are often forgoing the HSE bookings and logging in for private tests. Photograph: iStock

Doctors are reporting difficulties in accessing the national Health Link Referral System portal in order to book Covid tests for their patients.

Dr Mike Thompson of the Imokilly Medical Centre in Midleton, Co Cork says the volume of GPs trying to make bookings for patients is causing the national system to become "very slow or not functioning."

“It might quieten down a little bit at lunchtime when some of us log off. It is just another problem. The receptionists are getting a little bit of push back. It is totally outside our control with the delay (in getting appointments) and now we can’t even book them. On all the WhatsApp groups (doctors) are saying ‘I can’t get through to the (national) portal’ or ‘It’s slow.”

“There is such a positivity rate out there that it all leads to the bigger question of are we giving PCR’s for valid reasons or not anymore if it so contagious? I would say to people if have a positive antigen presume you have Covid and isolate.”


Dr Thompson says it is understandable that some people want to know for sure if they have contacted the virus.

“Of course there are issues like when will people get their boosters if they are positive? Or they want the test result for work/social welfare.

“But for families of six I don’t know if it is relevant that they all be sent for a PCR. I think we probably need a paradigm shift when it comes to PCR testing. Maybe moving to testing those who are very unwell or the vulnerable.”

He says generally speaking the demand for testing is so large that patients are often forgoing the HSE bookings and logging in for private tests. He feels that perhaps we need to look at prioritising certain groups for testing.

“It is fine if people can afford the private tests but some people can’t. Over 70 or people with underlying conditions or people who are quite unwell. Maybe we should just be PCR’ing them.

“Then we need to be able to allow people to claim social welfare. We need to trust people who have symptoms and a positive antigen. That should be good enough maybe.”

Dr Thompson says such an approach could lead to difficulties in counting official Covid figures. However, he believes it is an area that should be considered alongside making increased provisions for free antigen tests.

“If you have a positive antigen test you have to stay at home. It is as simple as that. Antigen tests are relatively cheap. Now if you have a family of five and you are doing them three times a week it adds up. Maybe it might it better to give people free antigen tests. You could easily be spending €30 to €40 a week on them. For some people that is their discretionary income. ”

The HSE has been contacted for comment.