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A number of Covid-19 community assessment hubs established by the HSE are to reduce opening hours from this week following a reduction in demand, it has emerged.
The HSE has said the hubs are scaled up/down as appropriate based on activity and demand.
As the number of cases of the novel coronavirus continues to fall in the community, so too has demand at hubs nationwide, established in early April.
Hubs usually operate from 8am to 8pm, seven days a week. But on 14 May the Cabinteely Assessment Hub issued a notice advising that from Monday, 18 May it would open from Monday to Friday, 1-5pm.
“This is due to a current lack of demand for the service despite us being the third busiest CHO [community health organisation] nationally.
“Our GP registrars are returning to their home practices. The service will be operated by one of your neighbouring GPs and one nurse.”
Ashbourne-based GP Dr Mait O’Faolain confirmed that hours were being reduced in response to a fall in patient numbers.
He said the “DCU hub” in Dublin would remain open seven days a week while the Raheny hub would open weekdays only.
“Demand remains strong in north Dublin, with the DCU hub seeing up to 20 a day some days,” said Dr O’Faolain.
“Despite reducing hours …it should still be possible to offer same day appointments to all.
“When demand rises then the hubs will expand again and key personal have been identified who can make themselves available at short notice.
“The flexibility of the hubs to meet the challenges of the virus in the community is a real strength in my opinion.”
He added that no hub had been “ shut completely”.
Community Assessment Hub Liaison for North Dublin, GP Dr Ray Walley, also confirmed there were plans to limit opening hours in Edenmore and Balbriggan.
“The agreement developed between the IMO and HSE was that they would always be modified on the basis of need,” said Dr Walley.
“We will need the hubs in the winter months and I would be slow to shut any down.”
Dr Nicola Cochrane, GP Lead for Clonskeagh CHO 6, said that all hubs in the CHO (Wicklow, Dun Laoghaire, Dublin South East) were planning to decrease opening hours in response to falling demand.
“We have seen a steady reduction in referrals of Covid positive or presumed positive patients so are reducing opening hours,” said Dr Cochrane.
“Because we have established a robust system for working safely for staff and patients we will be able to scale up or scale down the service in response to changing numbers of referrals.”
Initially, 39 hubs were planned but 29 are currently in operation, it is understood.
According to the HSE, hubs are for patients who are very unwell, with suspected or confirmed Covid-19, and who require a face to face appointment with a GP.
Hubs are staffed mostly by GPs with a support team of healthcare professionals, including nurses and administrative support.
A HSE spokesperson said: “The community assessment hubs, whilst focused on addressing the needs of those referred, are monitored through management structures and are scaled up/scaled down as appropriate based on activity and demand.
“Hours of operation are planned in advance and it is important to note that any referrals for assessment at the community assessment hubs will be appropriately addressed. Community assessment hubs will be available and accessible as required within each community healthcare organisation for those referred by general practitioners.”
Meanwhile, a system enabling GPs to alert the HSE to patients referred for Covid-19 testing but who have had no result within five days has been established.
The system allows GPs to alert such cases to the HSE via a dedicated email address.
The ICGP and IMO have written to GPs informing them of the development following concern expressed by GPs about testing and contact tracing delays.
Additionally, the ICGP has informed GPs that the HSE has advised the College of a change in the contact tracing process for patients who test positive from this week.
It will now mean that the patient’s close contacts will be tested on day 1 and day 7, whether or not they have symptoms. “The tests will be ordered by Public Health when they identify the patient’s close contacts. The close contact’s GP details will be taken by Public Health and the result will be returned to the close contact and their personal GP,” stated the College.
“When you decide to refer a patient for testing, we recommend that you ask the patient to make a note of who they were in close contact with during the previous 48 hours as Public Health will need this listing if they are tested positive.”