Out-of-hours GP services overwhelmed as PCR testing 'maxed out'

r Gary Stack of SouthDoc, which covers Cork and Kerry, said the service has referred 7,142 patients since Christmas Eve for a PCR test.
Out-of-hours GP services overwhelmed as PCR testing 'maxed out'

Kenneth Fox

The medical director of one of the biggest out-of-hours GP services in the State has said the whole system of trying to book a PCR test has “gone down”.

As The Irish Times reports, Dr Gary Stack of SouthDoc, which covers Cork and Kerry, said the service has referred 7,142 patients since Christmas Eve for a PCR test.

SouthDoc has 23 out-of-hours services in the two counties.

“I haven’t met any patient who has been online and been able to get an appointment since the start of Christmas,” he said.

Dr Stack said people who were looking for PCR tests were not even getting texts back with appointments from the HSE until 72 hours after reporting symptoms to SouthDoc.

“Many patients are ringing in and saying that we never sent them for appointments,” he said. “As far as I know, the PCR system is maxed out . . . the system can’t cope. It’s about three days behind. So it all ends up back in general practice. We have patients telling us, ‘Why can’t we get through? Why can’t we get a text?’”

Dr Stack said he believes the Covid-19 figures are higher than the ones reported daily by the Health Surveillance Protection Centre as he estimates that approximately half of the people who cannot get tests at the moment are positive.

Under pressure

HSE chief executive Paul Reid in recent days acknowledged the testing system was under pressure as the virus was “running rife”.

A spokeswoman for the HSE said on Monday night the demand for PCR testing “remains very high”, despite recent changes to the eligibility of those aged under 39.

“Clinical referrals including GP and close contact referrals continue to be prioritised even with high demand. Some areas are still trying to clear any referrals outstanding and most are progressing through these,” she said.

“While there are some additional measures to increase PCR capacity, it is close to maximum at 300,000 tests per week which combined with 350,000 antigen tests provides a total capacity of 650,000 tests per week.”

Dr Mel Bates, the medical director of D-Doc, which covers north Dublin, said it has been difficult to maintain a service for PCR tests while at the same time seeing people who are sick with non-Covid-19-related illnesses.

He said the PCR testing service “basically shut down – tests were extremely limited” over the Christmas period. “It fell back on to out-of-hours.”

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