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In the survey conducted this month (December), only 32 per cent of GP respondents were able to provide an urgent appointment in less than three hours. This compares to 60 per cent of surveyed GPs in October 2015 who were able to facilitate an urgent appointment in less than three hours. Five years ago, 73 per cent of urgent appointments were seen within three hours, according to those surveyed.
Dr Andrew Jordan, NAGP Chairman, commented: “GPs are struggling to meet the needs of patients as the crisis in general practice escalates. General practice delivers 22 million consultations every year, projected to increase to 33 million within five years. The increase in patient waiting times in the last year is directly related to the increase in the number of medical card patients, now approaching 50 per cent of the population since the introduction of the under-sixes scheme. A further 50,000 patients were added when the over-70s scheme was introduced. Meanwhile, €980 million has been taken out of general practice. Resourcing is inadequate. We are seeing a direct impact on waiting times, both for family doctors and hospital consultants.”
According to the NAGP survey, patients are also waiting longer for routine appointments. Currently, 25 per cent of GPs said their patients can get a same-day routine appointment. However, in 2015, 35 per cent were able to provide a same day appointment for a routine issue. Five years ago, 63 per cent of GPs could provide same day routine appointments.
The NAGP has proposed the ring-fencing of €500 million a year for five years to “properly resource a GP-led primary care system”. It said that for every €1 spent in primary care, €5 is saved in the rest of the health service.
Dr Jordan said an increasing workload, coupled with “stark cuts in resources under FEMPI”, have brought general practice to “breaking point”.
He added: “This simply cannot continue in the interests of patient safety. It is heartening to hear the Minister for Health acknowledge the need to resource GPs but there is an urgent need to put these words into action.”