Doctors have reported an increase in colds, viruses and respiratory illnesses in recent weeks, with some GPs saying presentations at surgeries have already gone beyond 2019 levels.
ast year saw a drop off in such cases as lockdown restrictions and reduced mobility during the pandemic meant there were fewer opportunities for infections and illnesses to spread.
However, recent returns to workplaces and schools have led to a spike in the number of respiratory conditions.
Cases in the south-west have increased 10pc since July compared with the same period in 2019.
Doctors in Dublin told the Sunday Independent they have been busier in recent weeks, with cases back on par with levels seen in 2019. However, outside Dublin, doctors said the number of calls to clinics has increased more significantly, especially among children under six.
Some said there are several factors behind this, but believe poor connectivity in rural areas compared with large towns and cities means people in the west and the midlands have been mixing in workplaces with greater frequency over recent weeks.
Doctors suggested people may be more susceptible to such illnesses now after prolonged lockdowns when bodies and immune systems were not coming into contact with viruses and infections. This has a significant impact on GPs.
Dr Gary Stack, the medical director of SouthDoc, an out-of-hours provider in Kerry and Cork, said the increased presentations have put greater pressure on services.
“Since late August, the under-six group has increased significantly in terms of presentations to both in-hours and out-of-hours services,” he said.
“In SouthDoc, the total figures for out-of-hours have increased 10pc since July compared to 2019, which was our busiest year ever. In recent weeks that figure is even higher, and even more so for under-sixes.
“There is a very definite upsurge in respiratory illnesses in the past six weeks. In particular, since the schools returned, children are presenting in increased numbers.”
Dr Stack said the increased demand poses significant resource challenges.
Practices around the country are already finding it difficult to meet demand because of a shortage of GPs. This issue is expected to become more acute, with hundreds of doctors expected to retire in the next few years.
Other doctors say they are already operating at full capacity and cannot see patients, pushing more people toward out-of-hours services.
“Unfortunately, there are less and less GPs both in-hours and out-of-hours due to retirements and lack of replacements. That is a problem right throughout the country,” Dr Stack said.
“Patients cannot get GPs, cannot be seen during the day and that often spills over into out-of-hours. We are increasingly seeing patients in out-of-hours who either can’t get into a GP or don’t have a GP.
“In all the centres in SouthDoc, there is a fall-off off in the number of GPs, and that is leading to significant pressure. It means we need to look at consolidating available resources in larger groups or centres in order to provide a sustainable GP service.”
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