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More than 1,000 MRIs have been performed on patients referred for care by GPs through a new diagnostic pathway launched in January. The initiative will provide GPs with direct access to at least 95,000 radiology scans in 2021, according to the HSE.
Up to the end of February, the service was open to all patients as part of the Covid-19 response to facilitate access to secondary care services. However, from March, GP referrals for medical card and GP visit card patients will only be accepted.
The service has been widely welcomed by GPs, who have been calling for increased access to diagnostics for patients for many years. The service will run until December 2021 and is being provided by five private operators or hospitals.
At the end of December, the contract will be extended or will transition to a “public service”.
GPs now have access to x-ray, CT, MRI and DEXA services for patients.
“Increased access to diagnostic services for the diagnosis and management of chronic disease in primary care, to include spirometry, echocardiogram and the NT-proBNP blood test, will be made available to GPs in 2021,” according to the HSE.
“This roll-out immediately addresses the difficulties that GPs face in accessing radiology diagnostics; difficulties which have been further compounded by Covid-19. By increasing GP direct access to scans, diagnostics capacity in the community is increased and hospital avoidance can be facilitated.
“It also supports the long-term objective to expand primary care services aligned to the 2017 Sláintecare Report, the 2019 GP agreement and winter 2020/2021 plan. These reports highlight the crucial role to be played by GPs in the shift in the provision of care from acute to community settings.”
Cork GP Dr Ronan Boland welcomed the initiative, but has called for access to be extended to all patients.