Coronavirus: patients asked to visit GP surgery only if they have an appointment

One Cork medical practice moves to mostly phone consultations to reduce virus risk

Patients have been told not to turn up at GP surgeries without an appointment in order to reduce the risk of spreading coronavirus.

And patients who have been to the worst affected areas and are showing respiratory symptoms have been reminded not to go to their GP surgery, hospital emergency department, out-of-hours service or pharmacy. Instead they should phone ahead or call 112.

The Irish College of General Practitioners is requesting all patients to make appointment to see their GPs and not to attend the surgery without an appointment.

One GP practice has gone further by moving most consultations with patients on to the phone. Patients ringing the Cork practice are told it is not taking routine appointments and that patients will be dealt with by phone.


“We have suspended all non-urgent medical care and we will be triaging acute care over the phone in the first instance, with a view to face-to-face consultations taking place if necessary,” a spokesman for the practice, who asked it not be identified, said.

The aim is to keep patients, many of them with underlying health issues, out of the waiting-room, which could often be crowded, he explained.

According to the ICGP, family doctors will take “particular precautions” in consultations with patients who have acute respiratory symptoms in order to ensure safety for patients, GPs and their staff.

“GPs may not be able to facilitate ‘walk-in visits’ in order to reduce the risk of Covid-19 infection to GPs, staff and other patients in the practice, the professional body for family doctors has warned.

ICGP president Dr Mary Favier said: "We are requesting the public to help us keep frontline healthcare staff as safe as possible from the Covid-19 virus. "We know that the cases of community transmission are increasing and therefore we are asking that particularly those people with acute respiratory symptoms eg, fever, cough, shortness of breath, or flu-like symptoms to contact their GP practice in advance, and take advice from the staff there."

Dr Nuala O’Connor, lead adviser on Covid-19 with the ICGP, said the key to stopping the spread of the virus continued to be “regular handwashing and covering your mouth and nose with a tissue or the bend of your elbow when coughing or sneezing to prevent the spread of infection and to keep hands away from your face”.

It is quite normal for people to worry about how the outbreak will affect them and their loved ones, she added.

The Irish Pharmacy Union advised people to have common non-prescription medications for cold, fever and allergies on hand. People who require medication on a regular basis should also ensure their prescriptions are up to date.

“We do not recommend, however, stockpiling medications in large quantities. This is completely unnecessary and could trigger drug shortages,” the union said in a statement.

“If and when there is a disruption in the supply of medications, pharmacists manage their stock carefully to ensure that all their patients can receive a quantity of the medication to meet their immediate needs. Unnecessary stockpiling of medication can create unintended shortages and puts other patients’ health at risk.”

Paul Cullen

Paul Cullen

Paul Cullen is a former heath editor of The Irish Times.