GPs and HSE in talks over Covid test referrals at Christmas time

The majority of family surgeries will close for several days in the festive season

GPs are responsible for referring  people with Covid-19 symptoms for testing. Photograph: Alan Betson / The Irish Times

GPs are responsible for referring people with Covid-19 symptoms for testing. Photograph: Alan Betson / The Irish Times

 

The Irish Medical Organisation (IMO) is currently in discussions with the Health Service Executive (HSE) around how the Covid-19 testing referral system will work over the Christmas period, when the majority of GP offices will be closed.

Currently family doctors refer people with Covid-19 symptoms for testing. The vast majority of practices will be closed for a number of days around Christmas later this month.

The IMO, one of the two main organisations representing general practitioners, is in “ongoing discussions” with the HSE around how the testing referral pathway would work during this period, a spokesman said.

Dr Mel Bates, medical director of NorthDoc, an out-of-hours GP service in north Dublin, said he had been assured “Covid testing will be fully operational” over the holiday period.

The NorthDoc co-op would cover testing referrals for GP clinics that were closed in its area, he said. Similar out-of-hours services would be in place in other areas to refer people for Covid-19 tests, he said.

Many practices would be closed for more days than usual this year, due to how December 25th fell on the calendar, he said. “GPs are open for 3 ½ days of the 10 ½ period,” he told The Irish Times.

The NorthDoc service had planned a “very full roster” for the relevant period, he said. Regardless of the pandemic, St Stephen’s Day was the service’s “busiest day of the year every year,” he said.

He said he was confident the out-of-hours service would have enough capacity to cover demand for people calling with Covid-19 symptoms, who needed to be referred for testing.

If the service came under significant pressure over the holiday period it would be able to bring extra staff on, even for short periods of a few hours, he said.

At present the number of calls from people requiring Covid-19 tests was “steady”, as the country lifted lockdown restrictions this month.

“It dropped after the summer… It’s settled to a steady number now, we might have expected it to have dropped,” Dr Bates said.

Dr Mary Favier, Covid lead for the Irish College of General Practitioners (ICGP), has called on the public to maintain public health measures, and to think carefully before meeting up with people in the run up to Christmas.

“This is the last few laps of the pitch, the last few miles of the marathon,” she told RTÉ radio’s Today with Claire Byrne show.

Dr Favier said she had not been surprised to see the rise in Covid-19 cases in recent days as GPs had been seeing an increase in the number of patients with symptoms, who they had then referred for tests.

Of particular concern was the continued high numbers in the border counties, but she was also concerned about high numbers in counties Kilkenny and Limerick. There was no county about which she was not concerned, she said.