Doctors will be overwhelmed by child visits, says IMO

When surveyed about their children’s visits, parents under-estimated attendance by 20 per cent. Photograph: Getty Images

When surveyed about their children’s visits, parents under-estimated attendance by 20 per cent. Photograph: Getty Images

 


Government costings for extending free GP care to under-6s underestimate the frequency with which young children attend the doctor, GPs have claimed.

Ministers have said the scheme, which is projected to cost €37 million a year, will only slightly increase the workload of family doctors because most small children are healthy.

However, the Irish Medical Organisation (IMO) claims its members will be “overwhelmed” by extra visits by families taking advantage of free consultations for their under-6s.


Consultations
The IMO pointed to a study published in the current edition of the Irish Medical Journal which predicts an extra 750,000 GP consultations each year as a result of the Government’s proposals, or three visits per child joining the scheme.

However, a study by the department of public health and primary care in Trinity College Dublin found that the measure would result in an increase of just 77 consultations per GP per year. It predicted one extra visit per child per year because of the scheme.

The authors of the Irish Medical Journa l study have responded by saying that successive surveys by the Economic and Social Research Institute, the Central Statistics Office and the OECD have underestimated GP workload by relying on patients’ recollections of doctor visits over too long a period.

“The CSO surveys also fail to take into account workload that would be standard for GPs elsewhere in Europe, but in Ireland is completed by practice nurses, allowing the GP to deal with more complex consultations,” according to Dr William Behan, co-author of the Irish Medical Journa l study.


Attendance
Dr Behan said research had shown that the longer the period parents were asked to recall a GP visit, the more they forgot it. When surveyed about their children’s visits, they under-estimated attendance by 20 per cent.

He pointed out that most nine-month-old babies will have attended a GP five times for checks and immunisations regardless of their medical card status.

“It is important that the evidence directing health policy should be both reliable and convincing, Dr Behan said.

“However, there appears to be an element of ‘group think’ affecting the quality of health reporting in Ireland, which will have major repercussions for the future effectiveness of the service.

“There needs to be proper engagement between policy-makers and frontline professionals to guide the evolution of the health service, otherwise a lot of damage could be done to the part of the health system that is currently most equitable and most cost effective.”

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