D-Doc experienced a 20 per cent increase in patient consultations in 2021 compared to 2020, according to its Medical Director Dr Mel Bates. Over this period, face-to-face consultations seen by the North Dublin out-of-hours service increased by 17 per cent.
Despite this increase, Dr Bates told the Medical Independent (MI) that D-Doc was more prepared for the spike in Covid cases at the end of 2021 and beginning of 2022, compared to the previous surge in January 2021.
“There was extra capacity for face-to-face consultations because a significant proportion of the workload was Covid test and trace,” he said.
D-Doc’s preparedness is also partly due to a large proportion of Covid referrals being handled through nurse triage and an increase in access to technology.
“It’s not that it wasn’t challenging,” Dr Bates told MI. “We learned from [the high numbers] in 2020 and we had more options and ways of absorbing that surge.”
The number of face-to-face consultations seen by the service continues to increase.
“We still have a standard Covid questionnaire which our nurse triage will use,” said Dr Bates.
If a patient presents with Covid-like symptoms, they will normally go to a doctor-telephone triage for an initial assessment. Those without Covid symptoms are given face-to-face treatment without a review beforehand.
At the beginning of the pandemic a deal was agreed between the IMO and HSE for out-of-hours services. It included a grant based on population in the area and activity from previous years to cover the halt in special-type consultations. The Executive also provided another grant to cover test and trace services during weekends.
“That, plus local support, made a difference in keeping everything ticking over in out-of-hours,” said Dr Bates. “Without it, we would have gone under.”