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Online system for arranging coronavirus tests crashes on first day before being replaced

The public are urged to contact their GP to seek a test only if they have symptoms.

Image: Hyoung Chang/PA Images

Updated Mar 16th 2020, 4:30 PM

AN NEW ONLINE system for GPs to arrange Covid-19 tests crashed earlier today due to being “overburdened”, before later being repaired. 

It is hoped that the new system will allow the HSE to ensure that everyone who has symptoms can be tested. It went live today but the volume of usage caused it to crash for a period. 

“The Healthlink e-referral system for GPs was overburdened this morning when the new
arrangements for referring COVID-19 patients for testing began, ” the Irish College of General Practitioners said in a statement. 

A short-term alternative has now been put in place. GPs are being asked to use an interim email referral system using their Healthmail address to arrange testing. 

The HSE also confirmed that the system failed before a fix was introduced. 

“This morning the Healthlink system, which is the system that we’ve been advising GP to make electronic referrals failed, a critical piece of our infrastructure within it failed. That’s now being replaced and we will be live around now,” the HSE’s Anne O’Connor told RTÉ’s News at One.  

Speaking earlier on on RTÉ’s Morning Ireland, ICGP president Dr Mary Favier said there were “very considerable delays” in the previous phone ordering system and that there is a “backlog of testing”.

“The change now today is that GPs can make that referral electronically through our IT systems, which is a huge bonus because this took up so much time for general practitioners last week, on top of their ordinary workload,” she said. 

It was confirmed last week that testing criteria is to be expanded, with anyone showing symptoms of the virus being asked to self-isolate and to contact their GP (by phone) to assess whether they should be tested.

The HSE said this morning that GPs can now order tests by way of a new electronic system but it had warned “the service is already under pressure”. 

Despite the new system, Favier said patients must meet the criteria to be tested and she urged people not to simply contact GPs because they are worried. 

Please do not if you’re just the worried well and you sat beside somebody who maybe went to Italy three weeks ago. You have to fulfill the criteria to be tested, you have to have respiratory systems, you have to have symptoms that are suggestive of Covid-19. If you do, we do want you to call us. We do want to arrange the testing, but testing just to rule out that you might have it when you have no symptoms is of no value.

Testing has been carried out in a number of ways. Home testing has been undertaken by paramedics at the National Ambulance Service (NAS) and a there is also testing at a number of designated centres. 

Favier said this morning that the number of these centres is to be increased to 22 but that people will require an appointment to have a test there. 

HSE officials have also said the plan is to increase NAS capacity to do more home testing.

According to the HSE, the main symptoms of Covid-19 to look out for are:

  • a cough – this can be any kind of cough, not just dry;
  • shortness of breath;
  • breathing difficulties;
  • fever (high temperature).

About the author:

Rónán Duffy

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