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More patients could be asked to wait in their car to see doctor

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GPs who operate out of modest premises will be hardest hit and may have to ask patients to stay in their car until they can be seen

GPs who operate out of modest premises will be hardest hit and may have to ask patients to stay in their car until they can be seen

GPs who operate out of modest premises will be hardest hit and may have to ask patients to stay in their car until they can be seen

More patients who have hospital and GP appointments will be asked to wait in their car until they are ready to be seen as part of a radical shift in the way care is delivered because of the coronavirus crisis.

Hospitals and family doctors are hoping to ramp up treatments for non-Covid patients amid concern about a backlog of waiting lists and a reluctance among the public to seek emergency treatment.

GP Dr John O'Brien, who practises in Castleknock, Dublin, and has been seconded by the HSE to oversee primary care during the crisis, said it was "easier to slam the brakes" - with appointments deferred over the last two months - than to take them off.

"You do not want to expose anyone to unnecessary risk of getting the virus," he said.

"There will be more virtual consultations where the patient is contacted on phone or online.

"If they need to come to surgery the time they are physically present would be minimised."

Dr O'Brien said GPs who operate out of modest premises will be hardest hit by implementing physical distancing in waiting rooms, and patients will be nervous about sharing space with others.

"Patients who have come by car could be asked to stay in the car until the GP is ready to see them. But not every patient has a car," he added.

"We have to proceed with new ways of working. It will slow things down. There is no simple one size fits all."

He emphasised the important message to patients is that GPs are open for business and they should not hesitate to make an appointment if they have any concern.

Challenge

Dr Niall Sheehy, a radiologist at St James's Hospital in Dublin, said scans and diagnostics had taken a huge hit in capacity because so much equipment had been given over to Covid-19.

"It takes it out of circulation for everybody else. Patients are not able to be brought in at the same density as before," he said.

The capacity to do outpatient work is also down significantly.

"The challenge from a radiology point of view as we move on is will we get the capacity back?" Dr Sheehy added.

He said that in the future, it will not be possible to scan at the same rate as before, owing to the Covid-19 restrictions, adding: "If you had a throughput of five patients per hour you might now have three patients per hour."

He said that down the line the way the hospital system is designed is not suitable for physical distancing.

"Waiting rooms can be tiny," he added.

Dr Stephen Frohlich, who manages a large practice of intensive care consultants and anaesthetists at the Beacon Hospital, said the average occupancy of private hospitals, which have been temporarily taken over by the HSE, is at less than 20pc.