SOUTHDOC'S staff shortages could put extreme pressure on the service in the months ahead with the arrival of seasonal flu and a potential second wave of coronavirus.
The warning comes following an urgent call for doctors from management at SouthDoc — Cork's out of hours GP service — last night.
Two text messages were sent to GPs across Cork city on Saturday night, appealing for urgent assistance at the Kinsale Road SouthDoc centre.
A text message sent at 5.40pm stated that help was "required urgently" at the centre.
The second text message that followed at 7pm revealed that SouthDoc was "extremely busy".
"Can anyone help out please even for a couple of hours?", read the message.
The service in Cork and Kerry has frequently come to public attention in the last number of months as a result of staff shortages.
Cork GP Dr Nick Flynn warned that the winter months ahead will be particularly challenging for the service.
He acknowledged how new pressures will accompany a host of added illnesses, including colds and flu, on top of the pandemic, resulting in mounting pressure for the service.
"It is worrying that on a bank holiday weekend the number of doctor appointments didn't seem to match demand from patients," he said.
"Of course, everything is a little slower now as a result of Covid-19. However, as we enter the winter months, it is likely there is going to be an increase in demand as other infections start to circulate and schools return.
"With the problems that other countries are going through, we have to be conscious of the fact that our secondary care services are going to be under increasing pressure coming into the winter months."
He said that a shift towards self-care in manageable illnesses needs to occur in order for the situation to improve.
"The added pressure on services means that self-care from patients is so important and it's an area where we could be doing better.
"There are a number of illnesses that are self-limiting that may not necessarily need a doctor's input."
He emphasised the value of improving this in Ireland.
"Of course, if a patient has serious concerns they should always check in with a doctor. One of the things we can do to help manage capacity is to help people look after themselves."
He described the current SouthDoc staff shortages as concerning.
"It is concerning that demand has exceeded capacity, albeit on a busy bank holiday weekend."
More than 220,000 calls were made to the SouthDoc service in Cork in 2019 alone.
In a letter to GPs in the region, SouthDoc general manager Maire Hussey acknowledged that 2019 was a “particularly challenging year” for the service.
She cited HSE funding, the availability of doctors, and increased service demand as the main issues facing SouthDoc.
The Echo recently revealed issues such as a lack of night-shift cover, cancellation of house calls, and urgent requests to GPs from management seeking cover in the region.
Meanwhile, the HSE's Winter Plan 2020 has been developed to prepare for and manage the anticipated service pressures this winter.