Temporary GP crisis support measures are planned to shore up single-handed and two-doctor practices
Temporary crisis support measures for general practice are planned for this winter in the Health Service Executive’s (HSE’s) “short-term tactical plan” in place until April next year.
Failure of individual general practices due to the illness of core personnel, or an excess in demand over ability to deliver services, would lead to knock-on impacts into hospital emergency departments, the GP out-of-hours services and other stressed local practices, maintained the plan.
The €600 million 2020/21 Winter Plan launched this morning (Thursday) stated that several GP surgeries did not have the infrastructure for streaming high volumes of Covid-19 and non-Covid individuals in line with national recommendations.
The plan described the temporary supports as essential to ensure that single-handed and two-doctor practices, which made up 15 per cent and 24 per cent of general practices respectively, did not experience practice failure and/or GP burn out.
Each area crisis management team was to develop and govern a capacity to respond to actual or impending failures in local practices or out-of-hours services.
Community assessment hubs were to be re-purposed under the plan, individuals with Covid-19 who became unwell in the community were to be continued to be referred by their GP to attend a scheduled appointment at the community assessment hub for further clinical assessment and appropriate management.
Additionally, this initiative is to accept referrals from GPs for individuals from the community requiring assessment for non-Covid-19 acute respiratory illness.
Access to diagnostics was to be enhanced for general practice under the Winter Plan.
In the event a significant surge occurred, the engagement of capacity from the acute private sector would be required, stated the HSE plan.
To support bed capacity requirements, the plan envisaged leveraging private acute facilities at an estimated cost of €59m in 2021. This included engaging these facilities to maintain continuity of elective procedures allowing for maximum unscheduled emergency care to take precedence in public acute hospitals.
The HSE anticipated that 70 per cent of pre-Covid productivity could be achieved.
The Winter Plan envisaged adding 17 critical care beds to current capacity: almost 500 additional acute beds to be available in hospitals including Cork, Mercy, Clonmel, Mater and Limerick hospitals.
It acknowledged the impact of “slowing” cancer services had been significant with the centres now struggling to deliver to a pre-Covid level. It was expected that additional resourcing would increase patient attendance across breast, lung, and prostate rapid access clinics. It would assist in addressing the Covid-19 backlog of patients and the impact of Covid-19 restrictions had on capacity across cancer services.
The plan stated it would enable on average an estimated 15 per cent increase in the current maximum capacity (Covid restrictions) for attendances within target access times.