Written answers

Tuesday, 28 July 2020

Department of Health

General Practitioner Services

Johnny Guirke (Meath West, Sinn Fein)
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1029. To ask the Minister for Health if he will provide a roadmap for the reopening of general practitioner and health centre services, many of which are continuing to provide diagnostic and prescription services by phone or internet only; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [18781/20]

Photo of Stephen DonnellyStephen Donnelly (Wicklow, Fianna Fail)
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I wish to assure the Deputy that general practice is has continued to operate during the public health emergency and GPs are still seeing patients where necessary, albeit with infection-control measures in place.

However, the exceptional circumstances faced by medical practitioners during the COVID-19 pandemic has resulted in a change in how GP services are delivered. At this time, walk-in clinics are not generally being provided and patients are asked to phone their GP initially to discuss their medical problem. GPs are performing assessments over the phone to determine if a patient needs to attend the surgery. Many problems can be resolved over the phone or by video consultation, some can be helped by the electronic transfer of a prescription to the pharmacist while others may need referral to other services. Where clinically indicated, the GP will arrange an appointment to see the patient in the surgery. These measures are necessary to ensure the safety of patients, GPs, and practice staff.

A joint Department of Health-HSE Community Capacity Working Group was established to oversee the work required in order to facilitate service restoration in the Primary and Community Sector.

This group’s work is aligned with, and has informed the HSE’s development and publication of, the strategic framework for service delivery entitled “Service Continuity in a COVID Environment” which outlines the basis for a consistent approach to decision making regarding the resumption of full service delivery, and also sets out the parameters for the more detailed operational planning which is currently taking place across the primary and community sector at local level.

These local plans will address any actions necessary to allow for the safe resumption of services and will outline the costs of preparations for any resumption of services. They will also describe the level of service to be provided and the expected timelines for activity to resume. These local plans will be submitted centrally to provide a single overview of implementation plans and activity levels.

Alongside these planning exercises, an increasing amount of Primary and Community services that were paused or scaled back due to the Covid-19 pandemic are now resuming locally, with priority service areas such as the Child Development Programme, the Chronic Disease Management programme, and various Health and Well-Being initiatives being amongst those in the first phase of resumption. Primary Care Therapeutic services are currently expected to resume fully over the Autumn period. It is important to note that some variation in service resumption across the Community Healthcare Organisations may be expected, depending on local capacity and the nature of service provision.

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