This page provides information and useful links to advice and guidance on Health and Social Care service provision during the Coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic.
As a result of the Coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic, a number of changes have been made to the way many health and social care services are delivered to meet social distancing regulations and to prevent the spread of infection. This includes GPs, community pharmacies, dentists and opticians.
When the Covid-19 pandemic developed in Spring 2020, the majority of GP surgeries elected to no longer allow ‘walk-in’ access to their premises, in an effort to minimise the risk of spread of infection [patients and staff].
There was a significant change in the nature of access to Primary Care services, with a move to a ‘Phone First’ model, and also a significant change in the consultation type, from ‘face-to-face’ to telephone/video consultation after appropriate triage.
Telephony grants were provided to many GP practices to help accommodate this change in the consultation process.
Following such a successful Covid-vaccination programme, face-to-face clinical activity in GP practices has steadily increased in recent months, but continued vigilance in relation to infection-control and social-distancing remains vitally important.
A ‘Phone First’ system continues to be the preferred model in relation to access to Primary Care services, when medical care is required.
These centres are staffed by GPs, nurses and other support staff to treat patients who have tested positive for or are suspected of having Coronavirus (COVID-19) in the community. Patients have to be referred to these centres by their own GP or by GP Out of Hours.
Like many other health services, community pharmacies are experiencing higher demand than usual for their services and are also required to comply with government guidance on social distancing.
Dental practices are particularly impacted by the Coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic. Most dental procedures are aerosol-generating, which means they release airborne particles which can result in potential spread of infection. This has therefore led to a significant reduction in the quantity of treatment that can be provided by dentists. Although routine care and treatment can be provided practices have been asked to prioritise patients with the greatest need and as such some routine or non-urgent treatment may be postponed.
If you have tested positive for Coronavirus (COVID-19) or have symptoms such as a high temperature and a new continuous cough, or a loss or change of smell or taste and you need dental treatment, please let your dentist know.
Urgent Dental Care Centres (UDCCs) have been established to provide care to patients with urgent dental needs who cannot be seen in their own practice including people who currently have or may have COVID-19.
The UDCCs are open at weekends and public holidays however you must be referred by a dentist. Dental practices will have arrangements in place to ensure that patients requiring prompt care and treatment will receive care and treatment as soon as appropriate.
Patients who have an urgent or emergency dental problem should therefore follow the steps below.
To find a dentist visit: HSC Service Finder website
On 18 June 2020 the acting Chief Dental Officer wrote to all NI General Dental Practices setting out a timetable for the re-establishment of General Dental Services.
The plan for the restoration of primary care dentistry specified that practices were able to provide non-urgent treatments not involving Aerosol Generated Procedures (AGPs) from 29 June onwards and AGPs from 20 July onwards.
However, some practices that were able to demonstrate compliance with the stringent standards already in place within Urgent Dental Care Centres (UDCC) were able to provide all dental services including AGPs from 1 July 2020 onwards.
Prior to Covid-19, approximately 80,000 patients would have received dental care each week in dental practices. Currently practices are operating at approximately 40% capacity.
As such there are still a large number of patients with significant oral health problems for which it could be many months before there is sufficient GDS capacity to allow their needs to be met. Furthermore, this number continues to grow.
The public should continue to contact their local dentist if they are in pain. The implementation of significant cleaning and disinfection protocols will affect waiting times and access to dentist surgeries.
It may also be necessary in the future to tighten restrictions if that is deemed to be in the best interests of the population.
Optometry practices are currently providing a full range of eyecare services including HSC funded eye examinations and various enhanced services. All Optometry practices are providing these services in line with social distancing requirements and infection prevention and control guidance.
These additional requirements during the time of the COVID-19 pandemic may mean some changes to the usual way in which eyecare is provided including access to remote consultations, where appropriate and available.
If you have any concerns about your eyes, including an urgent eye problem, or a query about your glasses or contact lenses, please telephone your optometry practice first to discuss your concerns.
If you have an emergency eye condition, such as severe injury, you should go directly and immediately to your local Emergency Department.
Service updates within each Health and Social Care Trust