The Government of Northern Ireland has thanked GP teams for staffing Covid assessment centres.
The praise marked a year since the first centre – also known as a ‘hot hub’ in England – opened in Belfast.
Since then, ten more centres have followed suit across Northern Ireland, with the aim of helping GP practices in separating patients who may have Covid from those seeking primary care assistance for unrelated reasons.
However, the year hasn’t been plain sailing for the centres, with Pulse having covered GPs’ frustration at feeling ‘bullied’ into staffing them.
To date, 40,000 patients have attended the centres, with 15% transferred onto secondary care.
Dr Alan Stout, BMA Northern Ireland GP committee chair, said: ‘With Covid-19 a new and highly infections virus, we knew we had to move quickly to try and separate out Covid and non-Covid care, both to protect patients and practice staff, many of whom were rightly worried about the possibility of large numbers of patients with Covid-19 attending surgeries.
‘We also needed to make sure that patients who we suspected as having Covid-19 were seen as quickly as possible in a facility that was set up to ensure social distancing and with high standards of hygiene.’
Dr Stout, who practices in the capital, stressed how the groups have worked on various angles of managing the pandemic across the entire country, including in Antrim, Coleraine, Newtownards, Lisburn, Enniskillen and Londonderry.
He added: ‘Right across Northern Ireland, GPs, practice staff and the health trusts worked together to get the centres open as quickly as possible. They helped design rotas, set up Covid-safe spaces and ensure they centres were appropriately supplied with equipment. It was a huge team effort.’
Similarly, Dr Margaret O’Brien, head of GP Services at the Health and Social Care Board, congratulated GP teams for responding ‘swiftly’ in ‘a time of crisis’. She singled out Dr Windsor Murdock for keeping Covid centres functioning.
The RCGP also piled on the praise, with Northern Ireland chair Dr Laurence Dorman stating: ‘As frontline healthcare workers, GPs stepped up to the challenge and quickly established, staffed and managed the Covid-19 assessment centres. This work, based on WHO principles of separating Covid from non-Covid, ensured practices could continue to care for patients in their surgeries and protected staff.’
He heralded data from the centres with contributing to mapping how the virus spread, even providing insight to senior decision makers on its prevalence within the community, and within medical research. This included on GP investigators examining participants in the Novavax vaccine trial.