Local GPs now able to refer patients for Covid-19 testing, says Longford doctor

Coronavirus: A lot of people won’t feel too bad but self-isolation is key to protecting the vulnerable

Jessica Thompson

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Jessica Thompson

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‘Incremental measures can amount to a huge impact’, when preventing the spread of Coronavirus says Longford GP

Longford GP and IMO president Dr Padraig McGarry

While testing facilities for Covid-19 are now set up across the country, self-isolation is still the key to slowing down the spread of the virus, according to local GP and president of the Irish Medical Organisation, Dr Padraig McGarry.

As of Wednesday morning, March 18, there are 292 cases of coronavirus confirmed in Ireland and two deaths.

An announcement by An Taoiseach Leo Varadkar saw schools, businesses, pubs and clubs across the country shut down temporarily.

Travel restrictions have been put in place, jobs have been lost, social welfare offices have been hit with massive queues of people trying to sign on, and shelves in supermarkets have been wiped clear on several occasions.

And there will be a spike in the number of people who contract the virus, officials have said, with a 30% daily increase predicted and 15,000 cases expected by the end of the month.

A total of 22 test centres will be operating in an attempt to manage the spread of the virus, but Dr McGarry has said it is important to know that these tests are done by GP referral only, and a number of steps must be taken before a Covid-19 test is carried out.

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“The entire way GPs will deal with patients will change,” Dr McGarry told the Longford Leader on Monday.

“Patients should not arrive at the GP surgery for any reason. You must call ahead so that you can be triaged and the staff will look at your complaints and call you back to determine what needs to be done.

“We’re trying to keep people out of surgeries to contain socialisation. Bringing people in is a bad idea because there will be people who have to come in,” he added, stressing that patients need to be kept separate.

But self-isolation is essential when feeling flu-like symptoms, as this is the best way to avoid spreading the coronavirus, he added.

“After a patient has called ahead, depending on their symptoms, they may well be asked to self-isolate for 14 days or more.

“And the reason I say ‘or more’ is that you need to isolate for five days after you’ve had a fever. So if you get a fever on day 12, you need to isolate until day 17.”

GP consultations will be carried out over the phone and the appropriate advice will be given without the need for an influx of patients at surgery waiting rooms.

“If necessary, your GP will order, electronically, a Covid-19 test, depending on your symptoms. The test centre will contact the patient directly, but having the test does not change the advice - you still have to isolate for 14 days or more. Having the test does not change the clinical outcome.

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“Your GP may determine you need to be seen and could advise you to come into a designated area where the doctor will be gowned up and will examine you,” Dr McGarry continued.

“The doctor may then determine if you are ill enough to require an ambulance or hospitalisation. But the most important thing here is that, if you have symptoms, you need to self isolate.”

Your GP will not be able to provide you with a Covid-19 test, Dr McGarry stressed. He or she can only provide you with a referral.

“And out of hour services will not be able to order a test - only your GP can do that,” he added.

GPs are also asking people to use common sense and not overwhelm the system as this may prevent people who really need the test from getting it on time.

“The capacity for testing is being ramped up but it’s not unlimited and the system will crash if it’s overwhelmed too much,” said Dr McGarry.

“Having the test doesn’t change the clinical decision-making. Isolate yourself if you have symptoms and take the appropriate measures.

“If you self-isolate, you slow the spread, in particular to vulnerable people who may need hospitalisation. If a large portion of these vulnerable people get it together, the system would not be able to cope,” said Dr McGarry.

Covid-19 is a new virus and, as such, there’s not enough knowledge about whether or not you can get it more than once.

“There is evidence that you can get it twice, but once you get it, you’ll develop a significant immunity to deal with it and your immune system will be primed to fight it if you do get it again,” Dr McGarry explained.

But the majority of those who get it even for the first time will, realistically, be well-equipped to deal with it and will probably only suffer mild symptoms for a few days before recovering.

“A lot of people who get it won’t necessarily feel too bad - you may very well be able to continue to work remotely,” said Dr McGarry.

“If I get it, I can work from home. A lot of my work can be done remotely. I can make and take phone calls and write up prescriptions.”

But, with a spike in the number of cases expected, Dr McGarry reiterated the importance of self isolation, hand washing, and proper cough and sneeze etiquette for the protection of the more vulnerable members of society.

“Isolate, isolate, isolate - I can’t stress that enough,” he concluded.

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