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Major increases in use of GP community diagnostics access scheme

By Reporter - 05th Jan 2024

Minister for Health Stephen Donnelly today announced that over 700,000 directly referred community radiology diagnostic scans have been completed since the launch of the GP access to community diagnostics (GPACD) scheme in 2021.

Demand for community radiology diagnostics delivered through the scheme has more than doubled since it launched. 

  • 138,000 radiology scans were undertaken in 2021 (vs. target of 94,000).
  • 250,000 radiology scans were undertaken in 2022 (vs. target 195,000).
  • And over 331,000 scans (vs. target of 240,000) were conducted in 2023.

The budget for the GPACD scheme has increased from €25 million in 2021 to €46.8 million in 2023.  This “substantial investment” is being maintained in Budget 2024, with a total allocation of €47.9 million secured for continued provision this year, according to the Department of Health.

The Minister launched the scheme in January 2021 to enable easier GP and patient access to radiology scans. Under the scheme, GPs can refer patients directly for tests including x-ray, dual-energy x-ray absorptiometry (DXA), computed tomography (CT), and magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) at no cost to the patient, with access to the scheme available to the total adult population.

Patients attend locations in the community setting to access these radiology diagnostics at facilities nationally. Studies have shown that most patients are being seen within a month. Up until the launch of the scheme, patients had to be referred to an outpatient appointment with a consultant before accessing these radiology scans or they paid privately.

‘Win-win’

The GPACD Scheme is available nationally for all GPs. 

Dr Diarmuid Quinlan, Medical Director of the ICGP, commented: “The GP access to community diagnostics scheme has had tangible benefits for patients’ diagnoses, shortened waiting times for hospital admissions, and helped reduce hospital admissions. GPs have reported that patients are commonly seen for their scan within a few weeks. 

“The scheme accelerates patient treatment by the GP, avoids some hospital referrals, helps compress our hospital waiting lists and prioritises patient treatment by hospital doctors: a win-win scenario.”

The Department stated that the scheme is particularly welcome for public patients without the means to pay for health insurance or private scans.

“Before the initiative was launched, these patients had to first be seen in an outpatient clinic before a scan could be booked. Timelier access to diagnostic scans for certain conditions has enormous benefits for patients. While not workload-neutral for general practice, GPs report this scheme improves patient care in more than 90 per cent of cases and thus engagement with the scheme from general practice has been very strong,” according to the Department.

MRI

GPs are predominantly using the scheme for MRI scans, which account for almost two-thirds of the scans organised. MRIs of the spine, lower limbs and brain are the three most common MRI scans organised. Results from these studies help determine appropriate next steps regarding management.

Due to timely access to scans through the scheme, the care of many of these patients is remaining with their GP. More than 50 per cent of patients who would have needed an outpatient appointment to organise a scan prior to the initiative did not require an outpatient referral once the scan was possible via this scheme, research has found.

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The Medical Independent 11th June 2024

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