Government ‘should appoint Minister for Primary Care’

Healthcare organisation call for consensus approach to develop primary care

A group of healthcare organisations wants to see greater use of IT measures such as electronic referrals and action to address the issue of GP stress and burnout.

A group of health professionals have called for the appointment of a Cabinet minister for primary care.

The Primary Care Partnership Executive said the perennial problems of the health service can only be fixed by proper resourcing of primary care.

They have suggested that a figure of an extra €500 million over five years (€2.5 billion) would be sufficient initially to properly fund primary care in Ireland.

The executive was set up by general practitioners, nurses, pharmacists and other health professionals and it followed a conference on primary health care held in Maynooth, Co Kildare, in January to chart a way forward for primary care.

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Its chairman Chris Goodey said it was the first time that healthcare professionals had come together to "give the government a series of solutions to fix our health service".

He said the first step in the process would be for the Government to embark upon a recruitment drive for GPs.

Speaking at the launch, newly-elected Independent TD Dr Michael Harty said 99.9 per cent of care in Ireland takes place at the primary level, but it only receives 2.5 per cent of health funding.

If primary care was funded as it is in the UK where it receive 9 per cent of the healthcare budget it would have a transformational effect on the service in Ireland, he suggested.

“We do hold the answers to many of the problems that are presenting as a dysfunctional health service at the moment,” he said.

“Primary care has a huge role to play in the future of the Irish health service. I have been fighting for primary care for many years.”

Dr Hardy said chronically ill patients occupy up to 70 per cent of the beds in hospitals, but if GPs were given the resources, they could be looked after in their own communities.

Launching their Primary Care - a framework for the future document, Dr Ronan Fawcett said every euro invested in primary health care saves five in the secondary and tertiary health care system.

Dr Fawcett, a member of the executive and a GP in Kilkenny, said a “Tallaght strategy” should be put forward for health agreed by all the political parties involved. He said the State needed a 10 year plan for health and successive governments should have to work within that.

He suggested a €500 million budget would be used for services such as physiotherapy, radiography, ultrasound and occupational therapists which are currently provided for in hospital settings.

“This isn’t money for GPs, it is money for professionals within primary care. This is about muscular-skeletal patient with a bad back who may need an X-ray, a scan or physio,” he said.

“The cost of him attending an emergency department is way more than him attending me.”

The document suggests that primary care means different things to different people and a definition needed to be agreed before proceeding with a properly resourced healthcare plan.

Ronan McGreevy

Ronan McGreevy

Ronan McGreevy is a news reporter with The Irish Times