GPs protest new ministry mandate to test everyone with COVID-19 symptoms

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General practitioners in Hungary have started to collect signatures against an instruction by the Coronavirus Task Force that they must test everyone for COVID-19 who seek them with upper respiratory tract symptoms. The GPs claim they do not have either the necessary equipment or appropraite conditions to carry out this task, daily paper Népszava reported on Friday.

The Coronavirus Task Force has instructed GPs to carry out antigen rapid test on each patient showing upper respiratory tract symptoms.

It argues that a non-representative survey (with a sample of 50 people) showed the circulation of rhinovirus, which is the main culprit behind the common cold, and viruses causing parainfluenza, but with the rapid spread of the Delta variant of coronavirus we need to be prepared for a rise in the number of COVID-19 infections too.

"Consequently, it is imporant to give the most accurate diagnosis of a potential coronavirus infection possibly at the very first visit," it explained.

The Coronavirus Task Force instructed GPs to perform the antigen rapid tests starting on Monday (18 October), adding that it would provide the tests and plexi face shields.

GDs are protesting, saying they lack the necessary equipment and the required conditions to fulfil this task. They say that in most GP practices there is no way to separate potentially contagious patients from those that are not, not to mention that a plexi face shield does not provide adequate protection to observe current infection control regulations.

Under current rules, such tests may be carried out only in full protective gear, but during consulting hours the doctor has no time to change into protective gear and back several times a day, while maintaining outpatient care, and administering COVID-19 and flu vaccines at the same time.

Epidemiological protocol also prescribes that if a test comes back positive, the premises must be disinfected, i.e. the facility would need to be vacated, which would also make treatment of 'regular' patients impossible.

The Coronavirus Task Force did not clarify what to do with people that show COVID-19 symptoms, yet their antigen rapid test turns out to be negative. Under protocol, they would need to undergo PCR-testing, but primary care facilities do not do that, only in the procedural order currently in place.

The signatories are asking the Task Force to maintain the current order of testing, i.e. people showing COVID-19 symptoms should first contact their GP on the phone and discuss the next move. This procedure could keep potentially contagious people away from communities such as a GP practice. They also note that testing by the National Ambulance Service (OMSz) goes relatively smoothly and instead of putting this impossible burden on GPs they should further simplify that procedure.

According to the paper, signatures are expected by midnight today, and the signed document will be forwarded to the Coronavirus Task Force on Saturday morning.

Authorities tested 17,554 samples on Thursday, and diagnosed 1,249 people with SARS-CoV-2. The test positivity rate is already over 7.1%, and the 3-day average is nearly 6.7%. As of late Thursday, 800 people with coronavirus infection were in hospital, with 124 on ventilator.

These figures compare with an 7.35% positivity rate, 950 new cases, 1,555 hospitalised Covid patients, with 167 of them on ventilator a year ago.

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