Consultant Oncologist Professor John Crown has said the work practices of consultants will have to change in order to prevent the spread of Covid-19 as other restrictions ease.

Speaking on RTÉ's Today with Sarah McInerney, Prof Crown said doctors may have to reduce their workload and possibly "stretch out their working day" to minimise the number of people in waiting rooms and in clinic areas.  

"Instead of seeing 20 people in four hours, we could see 20 people over ten hours so that there are fewer people at a time in the waiting rooms."

Prof Crown said doctors will have to weigh up the risk of bringing people into hospital for extra visits.

He said testing targets need to be higher, with quicker turnaround, with a view to looking at testing people before they are allowed to come on to hospital campuses.

There will be big challenges for the Irish health system in getting back to normal, Prof Crown said, as he warned people to "stay the course" and listen to public health guidelines.

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"We have a creaking infrastructure at the best of times when we don't have a pandemic. There are health challenges routinely which overwhelm the health service and leave shortages and waiting lists."

In relation to the resumption of screening services, Prof Crown said cervical screening should be prioritised over breast cancer and bowel cancer screening.

"Cervical cancer screening should get back up and running as soon as possible. It should be given a high priority. In terms of the rest of cancers, screening is important but it is less effective."

He urged anyone who experiences symptoms to see their GP immediately.

"It is critically important that people who have symptoms need to get in touch with their GP.  If they see they have pain, bleeding, weight loss, a lump, a change in a mole - go and see your doctor. We are all still at work."

'Hospitals will have to change way of doing business'

Meanwhile, President of the Intensive Care Society Dr Catherine Motherway has said hospitals will have to change the way they do business and there are significant problems ahead.

Dr Motherway warned that hospitals were not built to provide safe social distancing and they run near 100% capacity most of the time and over 100% capacity during the winter.

She added that outpatient clinics are going to be difficult to manage going forward and there will need to be significant investment in infrastructure - particularly in single rooms and isolation rooms at ward and ICU level. 

Dr Motherway said there is going to be a lot of work ahead to see how systems can be opened safely so we do not have clusters of Covid-19 in hospitals that would "be an absolute disaster that we must avoid".

She said that practices such as streaming patients and the continued use of recently introduced practices such as virtual clinics and using more tele-medicine would help ease some of the pressures, adding that the HSE must invest heavily in ICUs in the coming years.

Dr Motherway added that investment in primary care might also keep some cases out of hospitals, but everything would depend on adequate testing, isolating and tracing.

All of this means, she said, that for a period of time, hospitals would be relatively inefficient but they will try to be as efficient as possible.  

Dr Motherway said she had a problem with "everyone becoming public health experts" who are not and people need to take the public health advice on easing restrictions.

She told RTÉ's Today with Sarah McInerney that experts have designed a slow release of the lockdown so we can see what the effects of each phase will be in terms of viral spread. 

Dr Motherway said there "is no doubt that we have taken a great big hammer to it and beaten the curve out of an entire population".