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GP services ‘near breaking point’ –IMO

Talks are due to recommence with the Department of Health and HSE shortly on a new GP contract.

Dr Padraig McGarry, Chairman of the IMO GP Committee, said that the current crisis in hospitals and emergency departments has had huge negative impacts on general practice. “The worsening position in general practice which has been developing for some time has reached breaking point and is exacerbated by the situation in our emergency departments. Patients who have had scheduled surgery and planned procedures cancelled are now inevitably turning to GPs.”

He said GPs are struggling with increased visitation rates and decreasing resources at a time when there is greater demand for GP services than ever before.

“This Christmas, out of hours GP services effectively became paralysed from the weight of patient demand. The danger here is that this will become the ‘norm’ – a dangerous position for patients and doctors. The extension of free GP care to children under six has increased the attendances in both surgery and out of hours, as we predicted. At the same time we are facing an increased demand generally from an ageing population. We just don’t have the resources in place to support the workload we are currently being asked to carry and that is a key reason why it is so hard to recruit new GPs across the country.”

This aging patient profile brings with it an increased incidence of chronic disease which requires specific, structured care. At present GPs are not contracted or resourced to do such work. According to the IMO, GP fees have been cut by 38 per cent since 2009, leading many to turn away from establishing or taking over GMS lists where they become available.

Dr McGarry warned that the long promised talks on a new contract for GPs cannot look at introducing new GP based services until existing problems are addressed.

“While the IMO welcomes that negotiations on a new GP contract are due to recommence this month between the IMO, Department of Health and the HSE, we need to tackle the problems that we currently have before there can be any talk of introducing new cohorts of patients into the system. The key issue to address is the management of chronic care which will over time see a reduction in the pressures on our hospitals. Chronic care conditions can be managed effectively and efficiently in general practice with better outcomes for the patient which is also better for the tax payer and the State.”

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