Opening hours for outpatient services on weekends and holidays are being simplified, HIO director Andreas Papaconstantinou said on Thursday.

The change, which takes effect immediately, came about due to apparent confusion among the public since opening hours varied by day, the HIO head told the CyBC.

The new hours will be regular, that is 11am to 5pm across all outpatient clinics for weekends and holidays, Papaconstantinou said.

The revision of the on-call clinics opening hours also increases their daily number of hours in operation from four to six.

“The system for on-call visits is now stabilised, with the use of private medical centres’ facilities,” Papanastasiou said.

Private hospitals offering additional Gesy outpatient services for each district are as follows: Hippocrateon in Nicosia, Mediterranean in Limassol, Ayia Marina in Larnaca, Leto in Famagusta and Iasis in Paphos.

A streamlining of protocols across the board as well introduction of standardised quality control criteria for all centres, are expected as of September 1, the HIO head said.

Meanwhile, since the start of the implementation of the national healthcare system a large decrease has been observed in outpatient visits to public hospitals, Philenews reports.

A report presented last Monday before the members of the HIO Board of Directors, revealed a steady decline in visits to public A&E departments. While in 2017 the total was 287,372, in 2018 this fell to 280,820, in 2019 to 261,651, and in 2020 to 166,890. In 2021 the lowest number was recorded at 125,416 and in 2022 the visits recorded stood at 149,551.

The report emphasised that “A&E numbers should not be confounded with the outpatient clinics, since the services offered are completely different.” The A&Es provide emergency services when the patient’s life is in immediate danger, whereas outpatient on-call services are carried out at the clinic, without laboratory or diagnostic testing, expanded medical equipment, or other medical specialties involved, the report clarified.

Pre-Gesy, patients visited A&Es to be seen for free regardless of the severity of their condition, whereas now all basic services are integrated into the system, and this is what is behind the change in volume, the report said.

Data on outpatient services come from recording the first ten months of the institution’s operation.

Specifically, from July 2022 to May 2023, the outpatient call centres received 8,736 phone calls island-wide basis and 7,861 visits from adults and children. Children’s visits made up 57 per cent of these and adults’ the remaining 43 per cent.

During the first weeks of operation which coincided with the summer, recorded visits were low. From October 2022 onwards, the onset of seasonal viruses, especially in children, drove up numbers, with children’s visits almost doubling. Adult visits followed an upward trend from December 2022 onwards.

During periods of low morbidity, the average was approximately 76 visits for children and 66 for adults per weekend.

In winter and spring, visits almost doubled and the average attendance for children reached 149 per weekend (an increase of 96 per cent) while for adults it was 96 visits per weekend (corresponding to a 45 per cent increase).

The report further revealed that visits in Limassol throughout the 10 months were particularly low in proportion to the population, both for adults and children (about six and 11 visits per weekend respectively).

Larnaca district showed the opposite trend of particularly high traffic. For adults the average was around 16 visits, and for children 21 visits, per weekend.

On June 23, President Nikos Christodoulides had been comprehensively briefed by on the challenges as well as the progress of the national healthcare service.

Plans drafted by the HIO, including cost-estimates and proposals towards further improvement, are to be presented in a follow-up meeting of all stakeholders to be convened shortly.