Doctors are bracing themselves for a surge in positive coronavirus cases as the volume of tests is ramped up.
HSE chief operations officer Anne O’Connor says doctors will now be able to order Covid-19 tests electronically.
“We do expect to see a significant surge in the number of tests being ordered,” she said.
Some GP practises in Donegal have already cancelled normal appointment rosters as they expect a surge in suspected cases.
Up to now, GPs could ask for a test for patients who may have the virus through the National Ambulance Service. From this week, the HSE will have community testing centres established for testing locally.
Using their information technology system, Healthlink, GPs will be able to order the test, but only as clinically indicated.
Ms O’Connor said they would continue to have members of the ambulance service call out to people’s homes in some instances.
“But we are also setting up a number of community testing sites and people will be referred to one of those,” she said on RTÉ radio.
She stressed that they were not places for people to turn up to — they would be given an appointment.
The Irish College of General Practitioners stressed that out-of-hours GP services cannot order a Covid-19 test for patients.
Also, while waiting for tests and/or test results, patients with respiratory symptoms and/or fever will be asked to self-isolate in their homes.
There were reports of people telephoning out-of-hours GP services and overwhelming the 999/112 emergency services.
Ms O’Connor said they were concerned that people were looking for general information from emergency services and urged them to to the hse.ie website instead.
She said what the HSE had seen in other countries had informed them enough to know what they needed to prepare for. However, they also needed to provide acute care for patients with other serious conditions.
There were also a lot of people using mental health and disability services that had to continue.
“We have seen challenges in a number of sites where staff had to go off to be self-isolated,” she said.
Ms O’Connor said there is a good supply of ventilators.
“Currently we have over 500 ventilators across our acute hospital system,” she said. “We also have 1,000 other respiratory machines that would be used for a similar purpose.”
Negotiations were ongoing to provide a continuous supply and indigenous manufacturers were working with the HSE that was confident they would have what they needed.