FAMILY doctors are braced for a challenging winter, with pressure already coming on the service just weeks after children returned to school.
Already a number of primary classes have had to be suspended temporarily and at least one national school closed due to Covid-19. There is also said to be considerable confusion over what kind of symptoms should raise red flags over attendance at school.
“When it comes to the public health guidelines, it seems that the advice from every source is to contact your GP,” said Dr Máire Finn of the Centric Medical Centre. “Given the pressures the service is under, we can’t be the only port of call. We are getting a large number of people with questions over whether or not children should be going to school and sometimes, we just can’t answer them. I can foresee a situation where the whole winter is taken up with people keeping kids off school when they should be in, and sending them in, when they should be out. We can’t always be the arbiter and it does come back to parental decision-making.”
Dr Finn said that she had huge sympathy for everyone involved and suggested that parents might be better discussing issues with schools. “I would advise discussing the situation with the school,” she said, “especially if the child has a recurring minor issue like a runny nose. It’s not up to the doctor to decide in every case.”
Dr Finn added that her practice is continuing to see people who are reluctant to get Covid-19 tests, for themselves or their children. “It’s now the case that parents are refusing to get their children tested, even when the symptoms indicate that they need one,” she said. “Some might feel it’s too much hassle or that rules only apply to others. Everyone is under pressure, but if testing is recommended, then it’s vital.”
Dr Michael Kelleher from Lahinch agreed that GPs are particularly concerned about the coming months.
“We don’t have enough GPs and we are an ageing demographic ourselves, treating an ageing population,” he noted. “There is a significant capacity issue. There are still people who have avoided going to see the doctor in the earlier months of the year. That was in evidence also with the out-of-hours service, but that is set to change.”
“The big focus will be on avoiding a surge in flu cases,” he added, “and that’s why recommendations on vaccination have been expanded, with the advice being to include children between the ages of two and 12. The task of administering the vaccines will largely fall to GPs I can foresee the need to set up special clinics, which will create its own challenges.”