The North East Doctor On Call (NEDOC) out-of-hours service could be even busier this winter than in previous years, according to Operations Manager Ms Arlene Fitzsimons.
A higher rate of presentations across the health service is predicted for the coming winter, which is expected to be replicated in out-of-hours services, Ms Fitzsimons told the Medical Independent.
During the winter of 2020, nearly all consultations were Covid-19-related, with a large decrease in calls to the NEDOC service. However, contacts increased to 84,000 in 2021.
“I will expect that it will be as busy, if not busier, than the last couple of years,” said Ms Fitzsimons, noting recent commentary from the IHCA “that it’s going to be a difficult winter”.
While an increase in calls and consultations is expected, Ms Fitzsimons added: “We’re not an elastic service. Any expectation that we can expand to meet an ever-increasing demand is an incorrect expectation; it’s unrealistic.”
“We have a fixed capacity in terms of our roster and the number of appointments available and when that capacity is full, that’s it. There’s no stretch in it.”
She said daytime general practice was “overwhelmed and out-of-hours is similar”. There needed to be a “strategic rethink of out-of-hours because it’s the same people working in daytime as it is in the out-of-hours”.
In line with the GP agreement of 2019, the Department of Health and HSE have begun preparatory work on a strategic review of general practice. “The review will examine the broad range of issues affecting general practice and will set out the measures necessary to deliver a sustainable general practice,” said a Department spokesperson. “This will include the out-of-hours services.”