Dr Alan Stout, chair of the Northern Ireland BMA GP committee

Surge in Covid tests among schoolchildren heaping pressure on GPs

Doctors say there has been a significant increase in the number of schoolchildren being tested for Covid-19

UNDER pressure GPs are being stretched even further by scores of schoolchildren demanding Covid-19 tests - even when they have no symptoms.

Pupils have only been back in classrooms for two weeks but already some schools have shut again and entire classes sent home.

Doctors have reported a massive surge in young people being referred for tests since schools reopened.

The number of tests in the first week of term was 20 per cent higher than the last week of the summer holidays.

With normal GP services also becoming busier, there are fears medical staff will be overwhelmed.
Ian Knox cartoon 12/9/20 

Doctors say the return to school, inconsistent guidance and anxiety among parents are driving the spike in tests.

Principals also told The Irish News that there is confusion and paranoia among parents.

They said if one pupil tested positive, parents of everyone asked to self-isolate also sought tests, whether displaying symptoms or not.

This is largely because Department of Education guidance says that staff or pupils who have been part of the same `bubble' as anyone who has tested positive "must self-isolate and undertake a test".

The chief medical officer has since intervened to tell parents and schools not to seek tests unless children display Covid-19 symptoms.

Education officials revealed that there had been 88 cases across 64 schools since the restart, although it is thought the actual figure is even higher.

While this was anticipated following the long-awaited reopening of schools, doctors say they have been struck by the volume of enquiries.

Dr Alan Stout, BMA Northern Ireland GPs committee chairman, said there had been "a very significant increase".

"This is partly due to the schools going back and partly due to anxiety of parents and anxiety of schools themselves. The pressure on practice is going up significantly," Dr Stout said.

"Some parents are unnecessarily worried and some are taking tests that they do not need to go for. The guidance is pretty clear but people are getting mixed up with symptoms. Colds and sniffles are incredibly common. You do not need to isolate, you do not need to go for a test.

"It is certainly very very busy. GPs in general have been maintaining two different services. We are noticing normal service is getting busier but Covid-related services, having had a quietish couple of months, are now also getting busier again."

The Irish Medical Organisation in the Republic has also seen a rise.

"We had anticipated a development like this but we are nevertheless struck by the volume of enquiries being received by members," said Dr Denis McCauley.

Department of Health figures reveal that between August 27 and September 2, there were 98 tests among those under 19. This jumped to 118 over the following seven days.

Chief Medical Officer Dr Michael McBride has now sent a letter to parents telling them when they should or should not seek tests.

He warned there would be cases of Covid-19 among children in the weeks ahead.

Dr McBride said schools should not ask pupils to book a test "unless they have one or more of the recognised symptoms".