Out-of-hours service 'will collapse' if free GP care offered to all
The after-hours service offered by family doctors will collapse if free GP visits are extended to the entire population, medics have warned.
Dr Ken Egan, who is spokesman for GP co-ops which provide cover in the evenings and overnight, said the demands on the service were already leaving them potentially unsafe.
"GPs are under pressure until around 1am in the morning," he said. They may also have to face into their own day's work in their surgeries the next day.
He said they were being swamped by patients after-hours, including the under-sixes who had free GP visits.
"There are not enough GPs to service the co-ops," he warned. The co-ops are now under review by the HSE.
Dr Egan, a Mayo GP, was speaking at the annual meeting of the Irish Medical Organisation (IMO) in the wake of reports that the Dáil Committee on the Future of Healthcare, which is drawing up a 10-year plan for the health service, is set to recommend that free GP care for all should be available in five years.
Outgoing IMO president Dr John Duddy warned that the proposal was likely unachievable and based on the current shortage of GPs unrealistic.
He said the other proposals to legislate in order to oblige hospitals to perform within set times were impractical. "You can't even begin to deliver on this proposal without an explosion in theatre capacity in this country," the trainee neurosurgeon said.
"Even if all operating theatres were opened and fully staffed next week, it could not happen.
"There simply isn't the physical space in operating theatres or surgical wards to cater for all the patients who would require surgery in this time-frame.
"If hospitals are fined or punished for failing to meet this target, it will have a negative impact on the whole hospital. This kind of target-driven culture will not help patients, and could ultimately harm them."
"Crisis" was no longer adequate to describe the health service and words such as disaster or catastrophic were more appropriate, he told the gathering of doctors in Galway.
"When there are 602 patients waiting on trolleys for a hospital bed, does the word crisis even go far enough?" he asked.
"Does it convey the misery and suffering of patients waiting on trolleys for inpatient care?"
Meanwhile, Dr Trevor Duffy, a rheumatologist, said he was getting more queries from patients who were in pain about medicinal cannabis products.
He warned against expectations about the products and said the fear was that if a scheme for their use here was proposed, drug companies would hike up the prices.
Dublin psychiatrist Dr Matthew Sadlier said he deplored the system of paper files which still persisted in hospitals.
It can mean that patients who are in mental distress have their care delayed because of the inefficiencies in physically transporting these files.