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Coronavirus: GPs' normal service 'could be scaled back'

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Dr Alan Stout

Dr Alan Stout

Dr Alan Stout

Family doctors may have to scale back their normal services to cope with a growing workload linked to coronavirus, it has been warned.

Alongside NHS 111, GP surgeries are the first port of call for patients concerned they may be infected with coronavirus.

As a result, GPs are receiving an increasing number of calls from the public as the Covid-19 virus spreads across Northern Ireland.

Dr Alan Stout, chair of the British Medical Association's GP committee in Northern Ireland, said the workload is currently manageable.

However, he said the situation is constantly under review.

"I think it's only natural that people are contacting their GP with concerns, certainly people are aware of coronavirus and they are talking to us about it," he said.

"They are ringing us asking questions and looking for advice which is perfectly understandable, and I would be surprised if they weren't.

"I think every single practice is noticing an increasing level of queries.

"It is actually making up a lot of GPs' workload at the moment, it's not at a huge level yet, but it's something that we're going to have to watch and it may push us to do things slightly differently if the number of calls continues to increase."

If a person suspects they may have coronavirus, or they may have come into contact with someone who is infected, they have been advised to contact their GP or the NHS 111 helpline.

No-one can be tested for the virus without being assessed by a health professional first to establish whether they are at risk.

The current situation comes as the GP service in Northern Ireland has been facing a crisis in relation to workload and morale.

General practice in Northern Ireland has come under growing pressure in recent years, as more work has been moved out of hospitals and into the community.

Despite this, funding did not immediately transfer from secondary into primary care. At the same time, health bosses failed to implement a proper workforce plan, meaning that a large number of GPs are approaching retirement age.

The difficulties facing the service has resulted in some GP surgeries closing and neighbouring practices taking on patient lists.

Dr Stout said the spread of the virus across Northern Ireland to date has demonstrated that containment measures have been effective.

"Interestingly, the majority of patients who are being referred for testing are coming back negative and that shows that containment is working," he said.

"The numbers are going to go up, both here and in the rest of the UK, but the figures so far are showing that the measures we have put in place are having an effect."

Belfast Telegraph