More than 10,000 people have called the SouthDoc out-of-hours GP service looking for a PCR test in the last month.
Until Friday, anyone who suspected they had Covid-19 needed a PCR test to confirm this. However, as the online booking system buckled under spiralling numbers, many people turned instead to GPs, who could access a separate booking system.
SouthDoc medical director Dr Gary Stack said the collapse of the system, which led to long delays for appointments, meant everyone’s time was wasted.
“We were doing the vast majority of the referrals during the Christmas holiday period, but what I would question is, referrals for what? What was the relevance for people finding out a week later or getting an appointment a week later.
It was wasting everyone’s time basically, and it wasn’t of any help to the patient either. I think the case figures are totally spurious over the last fortnight, and I doubt we have caught up with the backlog.”
Between December 14 and December 21, SouthDoc staff took just 132 calls from people in need of a PCR test across Cork and Kerry.
This shot up to 3,022 the next week, between December 21 and 28 when Omicron began to surge, and in the week immediately after Christmas reached 5,445 such phone calls. This week, up to Wednesday, there had been 1,480 calls already.
“It affected our work, it affected our ability to answer calls from patients who needed medical help,” Dr Stack said.
“Our calls were up about 30%. We would already be under pressure at Christmas because you can’t suddenly double your staff, double your nurses and your call-takers just for the 10 days of Christmas.”
New emphasis on antigen testing
He welcomed the new emphasis on antigen testing, saying this was welcome until PCR testing can be offered on the same day people apply with a quick results turnaround.
People can rely on antigen tests and keep the PCR for people who particularly