A CORK GP has raised concerns about the pressures GPs are under as the country experiences its fourth wave of Covid-19 and deals with the new Omicron variant.
Dr Diarmuid Quinlan said that, in addition to looking after patients — from pregnant women and newborn babies, right through to all age groups including the very elderly and people in nursing homes — GPs now “have a whole raft of Covid-related work”.
He said that Covid-19 has seen the workload increase “very substantially” for GPs across the country.
“Covid trends are deteriorating, Covid incidence is rising all across the country, the Government has now brought in new restrictions, they have said we’re going to have the booster campaign for people over 50 and they’ve introduced new restrictions for household contacts so all of those things make general practice more busy.
“Our surgeries are really busy. There’s an awful lot of respiratory illness, particularly among children, so when people ring our surgery the phone lines are just busy from when we open until we close — so we would ask people if they can to please be patient with our staff. They’re working really hard.
“We still want and need to see people who are sicker so if they can’t get through we would encourage them to persevere, and if somebody has a lump or cancer concerns, or they think somebody might be seriously ill, they just need to persevere.
“Our practices are very busy and we have a finite capacity. There is a limited number of GPs with the limited number of appointments that we can safely see and that has put substantial pressure then on the GP out of hours or SouthDoc,” he said.
Dr Quinlan, who is the medical director of the Irish College of General Practitioners (ICGP), said that in terms of solutions, the HSE have agreed on expanding the number of GPs that are being trained which, he said “is really good news”.
“Firstly, we have a four-year GP training programme, so our GPs are very well trained by international standards,” he said. “In England, it’s a three-year training programme. They would like to move to a four-year programme but we have a four-year training programme so our GPs are particularly well trained, and we move from having 155 GPs in training in 2015 to this year we’ve 226 and by 2025 we should have 350.
“The HSE is actively supporting us in expanding the number of GP training places — and that support is very necessary and very welcome — but, obviously, that’s going to take time, that’s not going to make things better this winter.
“That’s why the mass vaccination clinics are so helpful in terms of helping take work ... that can be done elsewhere, take it from the GP practices so we can focus on specifically managing people who are sick,” he said.