The group of doctors have received no official communication regarding their role in providing proof that patients have Covid-19 so they can apply for illness benefit, Irish College of General Practitioners lead on Covid-19 Dr Nuala O’Connor said.
According to the Mywelfare.ie website, Enhanced Illness Benefit is available to employees and the self-employed who cannot work in the short term because they have been diagnosed with COVID-19 or because they have been told to self-isolate or restrict their movements.
The website says people in this position can prove their need to be off work with a photo or screenshot of a text message or letter from the HSE instructing them to self-isolate.
They can also submit a “certificate of incapacity for work or an eCert equivalent” from a GP.
The website says “you may not need to attend your GP in person to get a certificate” and “if your GP has submitted an eCert directly to the Department there is no need to forward any further medical evidence.”
However, Dr Nuala O’Connor said GPs have received “no formal communication” about their role in providing workers with the proof needed for the illness benefit.
“I’m not saying that we won’t be able to do it, but we haven’t actually received any formal communication about what the changes are and what we’re being asked to do,” she told RTÉ’s Morning Ireland programme.
Dr O’Connor said GP surgeries are very busy and emergency care needs to be prioritised.
“We’ve got to be careful to prioritise what every part of the healthcare service can provide.
“I think it’s important that we keep general practice free to deal with patients who are sick and to deal with predominantly Covid medical related care,” she added.
The first week of the new year is normally one of the busiest for GPs and Dr O’Connor has appealed for the public to show patience in the coming days.
She said one of the medical directors of an out-of-hours GP service in the south of country has described the pressure on the service in recent days as “relentless”, with huge volumes of people presenting with “Covid concerns”.
“People wanting advice about symptoms for themselves or a loved one and requesting referrals for a PCR, so I expect it’s going to be the same when normal daytime general practice opens tomorrow.
“So, I would ask that the public would be patient when contacting surgeries and out-of-hours due to this high volume of demand for referrals and advice,” she explained.
However, Dr O’Connor was keen to add that if people are concerned about themselves or a loved one, that they should contact their GP immediately.
New rules which were announced last week mean people under the age of 39 must now have a positive antigen result before booking a PCR test.
Dr O’Connor said the demand for Covid-19 related GP care surged in the lead up to Christmas and she does not think the new rules will ease the burden on general practice.
“I don’t expect to see a huge amount of change in it because in the run up to Christmas we saw a three-to-four-fold increase in requests for referrals or advice about Covid symptoms and many people who contacted us already had a positive antigen test.
“So, there may be a small reduction, but I don’t think there will be too much of a reduction in this because most of the PCR referrals at this stage, many of them, are actually coming through general practice,” she explained.
Dr O’Connor added that there was a drop-off in the number of people presenting for booster vaccinations between Christmas and New Year’s Eve and she urged everyone who can get a vaccine or booster vaccine to avail of one.