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Race is on to staff virus hubs and enable GPs to treat other patients

  • Concern at people ignoring non-Covid-19 illnesses in crisis

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HSE CEO Paul Reid, briefing the media in Dublin yesterday

HSE CEO Paul Reid, briefing the media in Dublin yesterday

HSE CEO Paul Reid, briefing the media in Dublin yesterday

The race is on to sign up GPs to staff new coronavirus assessment hubs amid fears that care provided by family doctors will "implode" as they and their staff get sick.

Doctors' organisations are also encouraging members to sign up due to concerns that people are ignoring other illnesses in a bid to avoid GPs' surgeries and hospital emergency departments for fear of catching the virus.

Health authorities are planning 40 hubs around the country to exclusively assess suspected cases of Covid-19 and free up doctors' clinics for other patients.

The HSE intends to have up to 15 of the centres open this week.

The development comes as health chiefs warned that the public must not become lax as the fight against coronavirus enters a critical week.

Last night it emerged that 21 more patients diagnosed with the virus had died, bringing the death toll here to 158.

There have now been 4,994 confirmed cases of Covid-19 in Ireland.

Separately, the HSE confirmed it spent €4m on personal protective equipment (PPE) that is not suitable for the coronavirus fight.

Both the Irish College of General Practitioners (ICGP) and the Irish Medical Organisation (IMO) have urged family doctors to sign up to work at the new coronavirus assessment hubs.

The ICGP wrote to its members highlighting "increasing concern" that the public - particularly those with chronic diseases - were not consulting their GPs.

"Without the clinical assessment hubs there is also the increasing chance that care is likely to implode as GPs and staff will stand a greater risk of becoming sick with the potential for practice closures," the ICGP warned.

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Dr Tony Holohan

Dr Tony Holohan

Colin Keegan

Dr Tony Holohan

IMO president Dr Padraig McGarry encouraged doctors to take part amid concern that non-Covid-19 patients had been reluctant to contact GPs about other ailments which are "just as important".

Chief Medical Officer Dr Tony Holohan - who had tests for a non-Covid-19 health issue last week - has also highlighted the worry that people are not seeking medical care.

He said that "while protecting yourself from Covid-19 is a priority, no one should ignore signs that they may need medical attention for other ailments such as lumps, chest pain or other concerns.

"Please do not ignore any symptom outside of Covid-19. The hospitals are there for all ailments."

Detection

The Irish Cancer Society also raised concern that people were putting their lives at risk because of a reluctance to contact their GP during the coronavirus crisis, some through embarrassment that they may be putting extra pressure on the health system.

Chief executive Averil Power called on people with cancer symptoms to contact their GP as "when it comes to cancer, early detection is key".

HSE chief operating officer Anne O'Connor said last night that the HSE was "very concerned" that some patients - like those who suffered a mild stroke or other illnesses that required a time-specific intervention - may not be attending hospital emergency departments. She said those services were still available to non-coronavirus patients.

Coronavirus assessment hubs are to open in the coming days in Dublin, Letterkenny, Galway, Limerick, Cork, Wicklow, Drogheda and Athlone.

Ms O'Connor said the HSE believed there would be enough GPs to staff up to 40 centres.

People with suspected coronavirus will be referred to the hubs, which will open between 8am and 8pm, after calling their GP.

HSE boss Paul Reid said the "vast majority" of people were complying with social distancing and other restrictions, but warned there was anecdotal evidence "people are beginning to get a bit lax".

He said he was forced to talk to a group of children playing football over the weekend to tell them to stop.

The HSE last night confirmed that 20pc of the PPE it had sourced from China was not suitable for use by health workers fighting the virus.

A further 15pc should only be used if preferred equipment was not available.

Mr Reid insisted other uses would be found for the items, mostly masks, but said the cost of items that could not be used came to €4m.

Mr Reid said the HSE had discussed the issue with the supplier and told them they did not want any more of the items that were unsuitable.

He said the supplier was co-operating, and Mr Reid added it remained a priority for the HSE to source a continuous supply of PPE for its staff.

He spoke of the challenges facing the HSE as it competes with other countries that want to buy the equipment.

"It's very predatory. There are major, big international countries competing for some of the supply that we have secured," he said.

"We're not in normal times. We're in wartime in terms of procurement."