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General practitioners overloaded due to coronavirus in Latvia

Additional duties imposed by the COVID-19 pandemic have significantly increased the burden on general practitioners (GPs) and are only increasing, Latvian Television reported November 12.

The work phone rings non-stop. Now epidemiologists are calling on weekends. This is the reality in many GPs' practices.   Latvian Association of General Practitioners is calling on decision makers to take note that for many medics, the load is starting to become too heavy.

The outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic in the autumn has significantly increased the volume and load of GP Gundega Skruze-Janava's work.

"Sometimes it really is that the phone rings, rings, rings, you pick up, put it down, it rings again, rings again.

On Monday, I had 17 calls during my hours until the afternoon. It's usually not a two-minute conversation, sometimes maybe it's fast, other times it's 20 minutes," the doctor said.

In addition to day-to-day duties, including dealing with chronically ill patients, GPs should call their COVID-19 patients every day. They also have to call their contacts, both at the beginning and at the end of quarantine, and there are many contacts at the moment. In order to facilitate patients, they also carry out COVID-19 testing. The load is also psychological – uncertainty about be the next day, or whether the doctor will not be in contact with infection at some point.

“It all together burns you out very, very heavily. It is not only that the volume of work has increased, but that stress and uncertainty are quite huge,” Skruze-Janava said.

The Saeima's vote to pay the first three days of sick leave for employees with acute respiratory infections will become another additional duty of GPs from Monday. For the time being, there is also uncertainty about how to do it properly.

“Now, in the case of one illness, we GPs will have to take several steps, open one sick leave, then close it, then open the next, close it again.

We have to follow the number of days. This, I think, does not make us doctors, but accountants,” said Sarmīte Veide, president of the Latvian Association of GPs.

The Association asks decision makers to take the volume and burnout into account. One of the requests - not having to call those in quarantine every day - the Ministry of Health has listened to.

"The other steps need to be done in such a way as to make it easier for us to do that bureaucratic work.

You know, a doctor already called me today and said, we don't need any more funding, we are burned out. We'll close the doors, shut down the practice, we won't work," Veide said.

The Ministry of Health noted that the situation is understood. One way of rewarding for additional work is the additional funding granted to GPs, too.

“The bonuses will be 20% of the average doctors' salary, which is about €550 per doctor's practice,” said the ministry's spokesman, Oskars Šneiders.

The Ministry of Health added that it will also consider how to address the issue of opening sick leaves. 

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