Will a new contract with GPs ease hospital overcrowding?

Government, HSE and Irish Medical Organisation to begin talks within next fortnight

Talks on the establishment of a new contract between GPs and the Government are to commence within the next fortnight, it has emerged.

Medical organisations and senior health service figures have maintained that a new updated contract with general practitioners will be a key element in tackling capacity problems and overcrowding in hospitals.

The Irish Medical Organisation (IMO) said at the weekend that under the terms of a previously agreed framework document with the Government the forthcoming negotiations will involve it, the Department of Health and the HSE.

It is understood a second GP organisation, the National Association of General Practitioners, will be involved in consultations on the development of a new contract.

GP-led care

The chairman of the IMO’s GP committee Dr Padraig McGarry said at the weekend: “ The ongoing problems of overcrowding in our hospitals clearly demonstrates the need for resources to be allocated to GP-led care in the community. There is a real crisis in our GP services at the moment and we have been warning for many years that we are at a tipping point. Unless and until the GP service is properly supported and resourced we have no hope of making the shift to care in the community which is required.

“We need to tackle the problems we currently have before there can be any talk of introducing new cohorts of patients into the system. The capacity is simply not there at present.”

The commencement of talks on a new GP contract comes as overcrowding in hospitals and the numbers of people on trolleys in emergency departments surged over recent days, hitting a record 612 at one stage last week.

The HSE will on Monday highlight again advice that is available online to assist people in fighting flu and other winter bugs.

Dr Stephanie O’Keeffe, HSE national director of health and wellbeing, said: “This is the third winter that we’ve promoted the easy-to-read content, videos and advice from GPs and pharmacists on undertheweather.ie.”

Expert help

She said the site had proven to be popular and helpful in guiding people on how to treat common conditions themselves and also on when they needed to ask for expert help.

“Undertheweather.ie can help give you the confidence to make your way through a few days of illness safely.”

The HSE said the website described various ailments, and informed people how long each one should last, and provided information on what to take to recover from these illnesses, and when to seek advice from your GP or pharmacist.

Dr Nuala O’Connor, Cork GP and member of the Irish College of General Practitioners, said: “ Sometimes people feel they need to visit a GP for common illnesses, or when a cold or cough lasts more than a few days. The site explains how long common viral illness can last, and aims to give you the confidence to get better at home, without unnecessary antibiotics.”

Martin Wall

Martin Wall

Martin Wall is Washington Correspondent of The Irish Times. He was previously industry correspondent