Expanding free GP care to under 8s will be challenging to achieve given the shortage of GPs and resourcing of community supports

 GPs must have fast access to diagnostic services for public patients, who can wait years for diagnosis of chronic disease.

 Professional body for General Practice calls on Minister for Health to immediately establish a Working Group on Future General Practice to tackle GP shortages and impending retirements and ensure we do not lose our highly qualified trainees to overseas.

 The Irish College of General Practitioners, the professional and training body for general practice, has warned the Government that expanding free GP care without further resources for general practice will lead to longer waiting GP times for patients.

The College warned that current shortages of GPs around the country will be worsened as free GP care is expanded, without any reference to clinical need.

The College, which has over 3,500 GP members, also highlighted the inequality of access to diagnostic services such as ultrasound, MRI and CT scans for patients on medical cards.

“Public patients can wait years to get to see a consultant and access to diagnostic services, while those with health insurance can see a consultant and get a scan within a week or 10 days,” said Dr Tony Cox, Medical Director of the ICGP.

“Every day, GPs are seeing public patients who are waiting years to see a consultant,” he said. “This is unacceptable that lengthy waits – from months to years – can lead to a delayed diagnosis for cancer, cardiac conditions or chronic illness. This reduces the quality of life of thousands of patients.”

The ICGP reiterated its call for a Working Group on Future General Practice, to plan for the expansion of general practice.

“In the past three budgets, the Government announced an expansion of free GP care to younger and older age groups. We fully support the principle of universal access to primary care for all patients, but as we have seen in recent years, we do not have enough GPs to meet the explosion in demand. There is an urgent need to increase the GP and Practice Nurse workforce, and resource primary care appropriately.”

“The HSE has predicted a shortage of 2,000 GPs by 2025 and while we are increasing our training places, we cannot keep up with demand. The management of training from the HSE to the ICGP needs to be transferred as a matter of urgency if we are to increase trainee numbers to a level that will only start to meet increased demand,” Dr Cox added.

In its pre-Budget submission, the College recommended

  • Immediate expansion of access to diagnostic services for GPs;
  • Expand the number of practice nurses from 1800 to 4,000;
  • Increase the number of community-based allied health professionals to meet the growing demand for mental health services;
  • Promote healthy behaviour though enhanced secondary education programmes, especially in relation to sedentary lifestyles.

The Pre-Budget submission can be accessed here. http://bit.ly/2kwdUhQ