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Mixed views among GPs on potential Covid-19 self-referral system

NIAMH CAHILL

Some GPs are calling for the development of new approaches for managing concerns related to Covid-19 following an explosion in contacts to GP surgeries in recent days.

Several GPs have reported a significant increase in Covid-19-related calls, particularly from concerned parents as children return to school.

In particular, GPs have reported an huge increase in calls from parents seeking guidance on whether their child needs to be referred for Covid-19 testing.

Dublin GP Dr Knut Moe on Monday 7 September reported a five-fold increase in Covid-19 queries at his surgery compared with the previous Monday.

Another Dublin-based GP, Dr Maitiú Ó Tuathail, said he has seen a steady increase in the number of people seeking Covid-19 assessment, as well as a large rise in calls from anxious parents.

Following the surge, some GPs have suggested that a computerised algorithm or self-referral system could be developed for those seeking a Covid-19 test in order to help ease the pressure on GP practices.

Galway GP Dr Brian Higgins, in a recent tweet, said this would help to “free our time to help those who are unwell and need medical help, not just testing”.

But not all GPs are in favour of such an approach. Speaking to the Medical Independent, IMO President Dr Pádraig McGarry said the current system, whereby patients are asked to contact their GP about any Covid-19-related concerns, should remain in place.

“An online booking or similar system won’t work because we could risk missing the bigger picture, in terms of another more, serious illness. Having GP expertise there is necessary,” said Dr McGarry.

He admitted that this would put pressure on GP surgeries, but stressed that in some cases, patients calling about Covid-19 could have other illnesses that need to be addressed.

Dr Mait Ó Faoláin, commenting on Twitter, said he had diagnosed patients who “feared Covid” but who had other serious conditions.  

He argued: “Algorithms just can’t pick out those cases from the wider grouping.”

Monaghan GP Dr Shane Corr agreed: “I think it’s one of the great strengths of the Irish system to have expert medical involvement at this initial stage. Not all illness is Covid nor is testing 100 per cent definitive.”

Former IMO President Dr Martin Daly cautioned that “self-referral may create a false sense of security for parents of children who really need to be screened and perhaps seen by a GP”.

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