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Minister announces further winter planning measures

Minister for Health Stephen Donnelly has today announced the extension of GP special payments to ensure Covid-19 consultations remain free of charge to everyone. The Minister also confirmed that an expanded flu vaccination programme will roll out this autumn.

Minister Donnelly said: “GPs are an essential part of our approach to dealing with Covid-19.  They have shown huge commitment to working with the HSE and the wider health service in the interests of their patients, and considerable flexibility in managing the impact of Covid-19 on their surgeries.

“We know that early detection of Covid-19 cases is key in suppressing the disease in the community, even more so coming into winter, and so I’m glad this support will allow GPs to continue providing Covid-19 consultations free to their patients.

“It’s very important that cost is not a barrier to anyone seeking testing, so I want to be clear that your telephone consultation with your GP to decide if you should be tested is free. The Covid-19 test as well as any hospital treatment you may need will also be free.

“If you have any Covid-19 symptoms, please self-isolate and phone your GP straight away to get tested. The symptoms include a fever, any kind of cough, shortness of breath or breathing difficulties, loss of or change to your sense of smell or taste or any flu like symptoms.”

As part of Ireland’s plans for “living with Covid-19”, and in addition to free GP consultations and testing, an expanded flu vaccination programme is to be implemented.

The aim of the extended programme is to reduce the overall spread of flu in the community and reduce flu-related hospital admissions through increased vaccination in vulnerable groups.

All of those in at-risk groups, including healthcare workers, will be able to access the vaccination without charge.  All children aged from two to 12 years inclusive will also have access to vaccination without charges. The vaccine will be administered to children through nasal drops rather than an injection.

Minister Donnelly said: “The health service is entering a challenging winter period, in the midst of a global pandemic. It’s important that we make every effort collectively to limit the impact on the health service over the coming months.

“Limiting that impact and protecting the most vulnerable people in our society means that everyone who can get the flu vaccine should get it, and we are starting by making it accessible without charge to all in the at-risk groups. GPs, pharmacists and their staff have worked incredibly hard to support and care for their patients during this pandemic. The administration of the flu vaccine will be another crucial part of that work.

“The vaccine will be available from your GP or your pharmacist, and I would urge everyone to get the vaccine this winter.”

Separately, the Department of Health confirmed a “short delay” in the delivery of one flu vaccine from the manufacturer.  According to the Department, the delay is likely to be about two weeks, and it affects all customers across the world, not just Ireland. “It is caused by an administrative delay, and not by any issues in the manufacture or quality of the vaccine. The doses for Ireland will be in the first batch of vaccine released.

“It’s important to note that there is no effect on the delivery of the vaccine for children, which is coming from a different manufacturer.”

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