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Patients seeking advice on Covid-19 from GPs will not have to pay

Private hospitals will need to give capacity to help the public service, said the minister.

IMO president Padraig McGarry, Health Minister Simon Harris and also Dr Mary Favier of Irish College of GPs.
IMO president Padraig McGarry, Health Minister Simon Harris and also Dr Mary Favier of Irish College of GPs.

PATIENTS WHO CALL their GPs for advice on coronavirus or for a consultation in relation to Covid-19 testing will no longer be charged.

Irish Medical Organisation (IMO) president Padraig McGarry said measures have been agreed between the Department of Health and GPs which will ensure there will be no charge.

It will “take the burden off patients”, McGarry said today.

“We have been inundated with requests for tests, and certainly the Minister [Simon Harris] has put in place supports to allow us to continue and give us financial support to not charge patients for the advice that we give on the phone,” he said.

“And I think that will certainly take the burden off patients and in this regard.”

Currently there are 223 cases of Covid-19 here with 54 new cases confirmed last night.

Minister for Health Simon Harris spent time this morning in a teleconference with WHO, stating:

“It is so important we work together on this global pandemic.”

Speaking to reporters today, Harris said this was “a very different St Patrick’s Day for Irish people, pubs and bars and parades have closed, and at a time when we usually like to come together to celebrate our country we’re asking people to stay apart”.

“That is something that’s very hard for us to do on a human level because we’re social creatures. But still I think our national day is also the day where we should remember what’s good about our country, and Ireland is always known for being resilient,” he said.

Harris said massive number of tests will be carried out in weeks and that the intention is to have 30 testing centres open. The minister said 19 of the 30 centres are already open, with all centres due to be open by the end of the week. 

Croke Park has already been announced as one centre, with the minister stating today that the intention is largely to try and use public buildings where impossible.

Smaller primary care centres, healthcare facilities, and even Garda stations are set to be used, with Harris mentioning that testing is being carried out in Lahinch Garda station.

Harris said he has seen the “most incredible acts of generosity” in recent days where people have been “putting up their hands saying ‘I can help, I can help’”. He said an email is being set up so people can get in touch and send in their ideas to the department.

The health minister said his department are trying to free up capacity in hospitals, by discharging those that can be sent home. He said private hospitals will also need to play a role, stating that he doesn’t intend a “takeover” but an agreement needs to be reached. 

He said the private sector has 1,900 beds in the private hospital sector roughly and around 164 ventilation rooms.

“So there’s definitely huge capacity that we’re going to need, that we’re going to need to tap into, we’re going to need to utilise. The private hospital sector has been engaging really well with the HSE and I want to thank them for that. And I’m very confident that very shortly the HSE and our private hospitals will be able to come to an agreement in relation to this. 

“To be frank, we’re going to need as much capacity as they can possibly give us and more. So I don’t think we’re in this space of takeover being necessary. But I’d rather reach a quick, swift agreement,” he said.

Hotels and other buildings will also be needed in the future, he said. 

“But every time I talk about maximising the capacity, I say the same thing because it’s so vital. The only hope we actually have as a health service of being able to manage this as best we can, is if we can slow the spread. And slowing the spread of this virus is not the job of any one individual government, the individual health service,a  particular doctor, particular minister. It’s the job of every single citizen,” he said.

However, the minister said that coronavirus will eventually become so prevalent that testing may stop in many countries but Ireland is  “nowhere near that point”.

The HSE is today launching a recruitment drive for medical staff. 

Harris said every graduate who wants an internship will now be offered one. Typically there are 700 spaces, but this year 1,000 people have applied and they will all get a place, said the minister.

He said the “call for Ireland” is a bid to get medical professionals to return to work. It’s  “all hands on deck.”

The minister also said the emergency legislation going to the Dáil on Thursday will be published today. It will deal with the issue of sick pay and support payments for those that have lost their jobs. 

It also deals with the issue of detainment, which is something that already arose a number of weeks ago when Covid-19 was added to the existing list of notifiable diseases. This already include diseases like measles and TB.

At the moment, anytime there’s a public health emergency in Ireland or a breakout of an infectious disease, it’s declared, and powers are in place to detain an individual who has an infectious disease.

It is “very rarely used,” said Harris.

“I mean most people who are sick want to be helped by the health service and so it is counter-intuitive that somebody wouldn’t. There is obviously an issue with this virus that you might be suspected of having it before it is confirmed… And therefore, it’s not proven from a legal point of view that those powers would apply to somebody who’s suspected of having it rather than just someone diagnosed with it. I really need to clarify though, it is highly unlikely that we would have to use them. Very similar provisions were in place for SARS,” he said.

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