Warning that free GP care will increase waits for most patients

Emigration has been considered by half of those who responded to survey of GPs

Two out of three doctors say they have seen their income reduced by at least 20 per cent in the last three years, while 69 per cent say they have struggled to meet normal expenses. Photograph: Hugh Macknight/PA

Two out of three doctors say they have seen their income reduced by at least 20 per cent in the last three years, while 69 per cent say they have struggled to meet normal expenses. Photograph: Hugh Macknight/PA

 

Most patients will have to wait days to see their doctor if free GP care for under-sixes is introduced, a new survey among general practitioners indicates. Only half of the doctors surveyed say they would be able to see urgent patients on the same day if the current draft contract for under-sixes is introduced.

While more than 90 per cent of GPs currently see non-urgent cases within three days, just 44 per cent say this would continue to be the case if the Government presses ahead with its plans, according to the survey of 1,000 doctors.

“The findings sound a cautionary note on the introduction of free GP care for under-sixes as per the most recent draft contract,” said Dr Shane McKeogh, founder of online medical directory GPBuddy.ie, which carried out the survey.

The Department of Health and the Irish Medical Organisation are currently in discussions on the Government’s plans to expand free GP care.

In further evidence of the strain felt in the primary care system, 53 per cent of doctors, and 66 per cent of rural, single-handed GPs, said they were considering quitting. Two out of three doctors are worried about the viability of their practice. They say they have seen their income reduced by at least 20 per cent in the last three years, while 69 per cent say they have struggled to meet normal expenses.

Emigration has been considered by 50 per cent of those who responded, with Australia featuring as the destination of choice.

A Department of Health report has pointed out that despite repeated cuts in fees, there has been no mass exodus of doctors from the State. The impact of fee cuts has been “greatly mitigated” by the continuing rise in the number of medical card patients, it pointed out.

However, the Irish College of General Practitioners (ICGP) said medical card income was insufficient to cover the real cost of treating these patients. GPs, it added, had seen their income from private patients fall heavily over the same period.

“General practice needs to be resourced appropriately to meet the demands of a growing and ageing population,” said Darach Ó Ciardha of the ICGP and co-founder of GPBuddy.ie. “The rhetoric to date, which is focused on the GMS payments, fails to recognise the real issue, which is the necessary improvements required to resource general practice to meet the health needs of our patients into the future.”