A Derry doctor has warned that ‘incredible strain’ could be placed on hospitals and medical practices in the city due to a lack of testing for Covid-19 amongst health workers.
The government has advised people with symptoms to stay at home and to not leave their house for seven days or If they live with other people, all household members have to stay at home for fourteen days.
However, trade unions for medical professionals are pushing for access to Covid-19 tests so that they can know whether they are infected with the virus and in danger of passing it on to patients.
They say that based on current advice, the same people may have to self-isolate more than once if symptoms re-emerge because without testing there is no way of knowing whether they are immune or still at risk to themselves and other people.
GP at Aberfoyle Medical Practice, Dr John O’Kelly raised concerns that one of the doctors at the centre who had a high temperature and flu like symptoms is now off and self-isolating as per government advice.
The local doctor said he rang the Western Trust and was told it is not testing health workers yet and he will therefore be off for an ‘extended period’.
Dr O’Kelly, who is former Chair of the Royal College of General Practitioners in Northern Ireland said the practice is managing to cope with two doctors off at present but the loss of any more staff would put significant pressure on resources.
“With regards to testing, I think it would be helpful for testing to be available for health professionals, carers who are attending elderly and infirmed patients and Nursing/Residential staff.
“If we lose health professionals for 1-2 weeks this has a potentially serious knock on effect on the service we can provide.”
Asked if it was worrying that health workers could potentially be forced to self-isolate more than once, he added: “You are correct that people could be off repeatedly. I am not sure how prepared the service is to deliver that number of tests but I feel it is important we protect and support our front line services.
“The World Health Organisation, who are the most experienced in dealing with epidemics - although this is pandemic - have recommended testing as an essential element in getting control.
“At present we are managing to cope with two doctors down, further losses including loss of nursing and secretarial support, will put incredible strain on our resources.”
Yesterday British Prime Minister Boris Johnson promised to ramp up testing but it is unclear how much it will be increased in NI specifically.
The Department of Health for NI provided an update on testing yesterday evening, saying: “We are working to significantly increase our testing capacity so that we can support testing of health and social care workers.
“Members of the public who have been advised to self-isolate at home will not be routinely tested. Testing will continue to be carried out as appropriate on individuals admitted to hospital and testing may also be carried out to support the management of outbreaks or clusters of disease in residential or care settings. Testing capacity is urgently being expanded in order to enable testing of essential healthcare workers.”
In response to a question from Derry Sinn Féin MLA Martina Anderson earlier this week, Health Minister Robin Swann, revealed that ‘owing to constraints on lab capacity, locally and nationally, testing is now being prioritised for a number of groups’.
“The current order for priority testing during periods of significant demand is, first, a patient requiring critical care for the management of pneumonia, acute respiratory distress syndrome (ARDS), influenza or an influenza-like illness (ILI); and, secondly, a patient with an alternative indication of severe illness, such as severe pneumonia or ARDS,” he explained.
“The next group is all other patients who require admission to hospital for the management of pneumonia, ARDS or an ILI. A further group is the cluster of disease in residential or care settings; for example, long-term care facilities and prisons. Symptomatic healthcare workers will be tested as well.
“That is under active review, nationally and locally. Additional capability is being urgently worked up in the lab system, and that will ease some of the demand pressures on lab services. It is not that we have reduced testing but that we are now prioritising the testing capability that we have available, and we are increasing that capability.”
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