Chronic diseases creating Irish ‘healthcare tsunami’, GPs say

IMO says extra €5bn a year will soon be needed unless doctors given more resources

GPs have called for the creation of a dedicated fund for chronic disease management to meet the rapidly rising needs of an ageing population.  Photograph: John Stillwell/PA Wire.

GPs have called for the creation of a dedicated fund for chronic disease management to meet the rapidly rising needs of an ageing population. Photograph: John Stillwell/PA Wire.

 

GPs have called for the creation of a dedicated fund for chronic disease management to meet the rapidly rising needs of an ageing population.

The Irish Medical Organisation say Ireland is facing a “healthcare tsunami” as a result of the rising incidence of chronic diseases such as heart disease, obesity and diabetes.

It says the cost of treating more patients with chronic diseases will be an extra €5 billion a year within a few decades, unless the Government resources general practice to provide more services.

The proportion of the population aged over 65 remained constant for many years until 2010, when it started to rise sharply. By the year 2040, it is estimated over-65s will account for one-quarter of the population.

“The challenges for our health services today are significant - but they are dwarfed by the challenges coming over the horizon,” said Dr Padraig McGarry, chairman of the IMO’s GP committee.

“Given the inescapable increase in the elderly population, longer life expectancy and everything we have seen occur in similar populations in other countries, we may end up regarding our current health care problems as ‘the good old days’,” he told a seminar attended by Minister for Health Leo Varadkar.

The percentage of patients suffering from multiple chronic illnesses increases from one in four among under-65s to three in four among people older than this.

Austin Byrne, a GP in Tramore, Co Waterford, warned the demand for acute hospital beds for over-65s will be greater than the current number of beds in the system. Another 10,000 beds will be needed by 2040 to accommodate this group of older patients.

The IMO maintains that for every €10 million spent on general practice, €50 million is freed up in hospital resources as less serious cases are handled by GPs. For example, attendances for heart failure could be cut by one-quarter by operating a structured programme for patients through general practice.

The IMO and the HSE are currently in negotiations over a new contract for GPs but little progress has been made since talks started last autumn.