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The ICGP has advised that new patient arrangements for expanded Covid-19 testing via general practice will apply from Monday (16 March).
To date, GPs could request a test for patients who may have Covid-19 through the National Ambulance Service. From Monday GPs can order the test electronically through their IT system, Healthlink.
From Monday, the HSE plans to have enhanced capacity for testing for Covid-19. This will include community testing centres established to enable testing at local level.
Covid-19 tests will only be ordered as clinically indicated.
GPs will not themselves undertake Covid-19 tests but can make electronic requests to the HSE from Monday.
Out-of-hours GP services cannot order a Covid-19 test for patients.
While waiting for tests and/or test results, patients with respiratory symptoms and/or fever are requested to self-isolate in their homes.
Dr Mary Favier, the President of the ICGP, said: “We are asking patients that if you are physically unwell, and your symptoms are worsening, especially shortness of breath or fever, please contact your GP for advice during office hours, or your local out-of-hours service at evenings and weekends by telephone. You will be given advice over the phone.”
“We wish to emphasise that out-of-hours services cannot order a test electronically.”
Dr Nuala O’Connor, the ICGP’s Clinical Lead on Covid-19, said: “The criteria for testing for Covid-19 is now expanded. GPs themselves will not carry out testing, to help protect their staff and other patients, but can make an electronic request to the HSE via their practice’s IT system.
“People with respiratory symptoms and/or fever are asked to remain at home in self-isolation. If symptoms worsen, please contact your doctor or the emergency services.”
Dr O’Connor added: ”The key to stopping the spread of the virus continues to be regular handwashing and covering your mouth and nose with a tissue or the bend of your elbow when coughing or sneezing to prevent the spread of infection and to keep hands away from your face.
“Illness due to Covid-19 infection is generally mild, especially for children and young adults. However, it can cause serious illness; about one in every five people who catch it may need supportive care. It is quite normal for people to worry about how the Covid-19 outbreak will affect them and their loved ones.
Dr Favier added: “Individual GP practices will continue to look after their patients who have ongoing and acute illness, and we will continue to do so with the assistance of our dedicated staff.”
This afternoon, the HSE asked members of the public who have normal cold and flu like symptoms, or who believe they may have been in contact with Covid-19, to self-isolate and to ring their GP on Monday, who will then be in a position to triage patients appropriately and order a test where indicated.
The HSE said it is working this weekend to ensure that sufficient testing facilities are in place by Monday to meet the increased demand.
“GPs out of hours services are not in a position to order testing for patients with normal cold and flu like symptoms,” it said.
“HSELive is an information line and similarly not in a position to order testing for members of the public.”
The public are asked to reserve 112/999 for medical emergencies at all times.
Dr Colm Henry, Chief Clinical Officer of the HSE, said; “While we appreciate people’s concern about Covid-19, we would ask for their patience as we respond to the increasing requirement for testing.
Yesterday, the national public health emergency team announced an update to the case definition for Covid-19.
Symptoms of new onset fever of 38 degrees or more, or chills and/or symptoms of respiratory tract infections including cough will be considered when assessing the requirement for testing, it outlined.