Doctors are no longer accepting walk-in appointments in a bid to protect staff and patients from coronavirus.
Patients who telephone a doctor’s surgery to make an appointment will be asked if they have respiratory symptoms.
Irish College of General Practitioners (ICGP) president Mary Favier said the changes are being introduced because of the increase in community-acquired Covid-19.
Essentially, GPs will triage patients who phone their surgery looking for a doctors’ appointment.
Dr Favier, a Cork-based GP, said they need to take precautions so that other patients do not get infected: “This is to keep our patients safe but also to keep our staff safe.”
The ICGP has sent an email to its 3,800 members and associate members advising them of the protective measures they need to take.
Dr Favier said GPs are removing ‘clutter’ from waiting rooms, ensuring that surfaces can be easily cleaned and that they have enough masks and alcohol gels.
GPs have also been advised to have a designated room for patients who may have Covid-19. Further guidance on the protective measures GPs can take will be issued by the ICGP.
Another suggestion is that prescriptions be sent to pharmacies and picked up there.
“We will be suggesting that doctors have online consultations to triage patients,” said Dr Favier, speaking on RTÉ radio and adding that they want to reduce footfall across a GP’s surgery as much as possible.
At this very early stage, it is absolutely important that we take full precautions so that other patients in the waiting room do not get infected.
Meanwhile, the Medical Council reminded doctors they have an “ethical duty” to protect themselves, colleagues, and patients.
President Rita Doyle said: “The Medical Council is monitoring the situation relating to Covid-19 very carefully, especially in light of our role in protecting patients and supporting doctors.”
Dr Doyle said doctors and healthcare workers are in the frontline in the battle to minimise the impact of the virus: “I want to remind doctors that they have an ethical duty, according to the Guide to Professional Conduct and Ethics, to self-care in order to protect themselves, their colleagues and their patients.
“Please ensure that personal protective equipment is worn correctly and that notices are placed at the entrances of clinics and practices informing patients to return home and call their GP or the HSE if they are displaying any symptoms of Covid-19 or respiratory illness.
To patients and the wider public, I am asking you to follow the guidance from the HSE and public health doctors. Your first port of call for any concerns should be the HSE website which is updated regularly.
"Most cases of Covid-19 will be mild and you will be able to care for yourself at home. If you are displaying any symptoms, do not attempt to attend your GP, out-of-hours service, or an emergency department.
"Please call your local GP or contact the HSE website for guidance.”
Dr Doyle said a community response is needed to slow down the spread of Covid-19 and that everyone has a role in that.