25 Jun 2020

GP questions new criteria for Covid test - 'abundance of caution needed'

7:53 pm on 25 June 2020

There is concern raising the bar to get a Covid-19 test has come too early, as winter ills surge and recent border lapses play on people's minds.

COVID-19 Nasal swab laboratory test in hospital lab

A Christchurch GP says a specific test is the only way to separate Covid-19 from other illnesses that are especially common over winter. Photo: 123RF

Today is the first day the Ministry of Health no longer requires people with any cold or flu symptoms to get a swab - unless they are high risk, or connected to travel or to the border.

Anyone with sniffles can still get a test if their doctor advises it.

The change in mandatory testing criteria for Covid-19 has surprised some, including Christchurch GP Dermot Coffee who said mandatory testing should have been kept over winter.

"The problem with Covid is that it can mimic these illnesses that can be very mild."

He said testing is the only sure way to detect the coronavirus from common winter illnesses.

"An abundance of caution is needed. We've gone from level 4 to level 1 really over the last four to five weeks and it's just too early for this.

"We were feeling confident two weeks ago but the border issue has completely changed the overall feeling."

  • If you have symptoms of the coronavirus, call the NZ Covid-19 Healthline on 0800 358 5453 (+64 9 358 5453 for international SIMs) or call your GP - don't show up at a medical centre

More than 10,000 people were tested for Covid-19 yesterday, compared with 9000 the day before, bringing the total tested so far to just over 368,000.

It was busy at the St Lukes drive-in clinic in Auckland today, where people waited more than an hour to get tested.

Many had cold symptoms and preferred to be tested despite the change in criteria requiring it for only those deemed high risk.

Director General of Health Ashley Bloomfield said an increase in the number of people getting Covid-19 tests was due in part to the emergence of common winter ills and it would be important for wide testing to continue to rule out community transmission.

Decision will ease GPs' workload - Rural GP Network

Fiona Bolden - who chairs the Rural GP Network - said the narrowing of criteria for mandatory testing is expected to lessen GPs' workloads. Until now GPs have had to swab every patient with a sniffle.

"We've had the surge of winter colds and flus that normally come along at this time of year as well and what that's meant is there has been more work for GPs to do around managing respiratory illnesses which has involved us having to swab people."

Dr Bolden said the change in criteria will also benefit some patients.

"Some cases have been quite annoyed at the thought of having to be tested when they've got what they see as just being a sniffle. It takes a lot of the pressure off us now when we don't feel that we have to do that anymore and we just need to offer it to them."

The ministry released its guidance to health professionals about the new criteria last night.

But Dr Coffee said there was no clear information about what the changes mean for those on the frontline seeing the now lower risk patients.

"What are we supposed to do, what level of PPE are we supposed to wear? It's very easy for them to say 'look, you can decide yourselves based on your own practice and level of risk you're prepared to take' but some bit of guidance from them would be helpful."

He said it's important anyone with cold or flu symptoms stays home to recuperate and still seeks the advice of their family doctor about getting a test for Covid-19.

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