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GPs feel ‘abandoned’ by HSE Winter Plan

Some GPs have expressed disappointment at the lack of support and investment for general practice contained in the recently published HSE Winter Plan. The plan, titled Winter planning within the Covid-219 pandemic: October 2020 – April 2021, includes an investment of €600 million to help meet service demand in what will be one of the most challenging winters in healthcare in living memory.

It warns that the “surge in activity over the winter will bring particular pressure on single-handed, two-doctor practices and those practices of older GPs”.

“Failure of individual practices due to the illness of core personnel or an excess in demand over ability to deliver services will lead to knock-on impacts into emergency departments, the out-of-hours services, and other stressed local practices.”

To respond to such scenarios, each area crisis management team will “develop and govern a capacity to respond to actual or impending failures in local practices or out-of-hours services”.

This will include GP, nursing, and administrative supports, while funding will be provided for provision of staff, indemnity insurance and other necessary infrastructure and expenses.

“These supports are essential to ensure that single-handed and two-doctor practices, of which make up 15 per cent and 24 per cent of GPs respectively, do not experience practice failure and/or GP burn out.”

But many GPs feel that the plan does not go far enough, with little detail on how possible practice closures will be managed.

Monaghan GP Dr Illona Duffy said GPs felt “abandoned by the plan”.

“Other than promising extra diagnostics, there’s nothing for us. Most especially disappointing was the lack of mention or support to GP out-of-hours services,” Dr Duffy told the Medical Independent.

Around 79,000 patients will have access to diagnostics via their GP during the period of the plan at a cost of €18.7 million. Since the pandemic, GPs have reported difficulty accessing radiology services in hospitals, including chest x-rays and plain film x-rays.

Meanwhile, Covid-19 community assessment hubs will continue to operate, diverting Covid-19 care away from GP surgeries, according to the plan. There are currently seven hubs in operation within five Community Healthcare Organisations, with a further three on standby to open should demand increase. The plan is to have 20 hubs in total available from January to April 2021.

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