Slowdown in GPs signing up for free care to under-sixes
Published 25/07/2016 | 02:30
The number of GPs offering free care to the under-sixes has stalled, with 155 doctors refusing to sign the contract.
GP surgeries across the country reported a surge in attendances by parents with young children, often with minor complaints - some likening it to a "tsunami".
Many doctors report that working parents are bringing their child for the free visits to evening GP co-op services.
These services are offered free - but they should be just for emergencies, rather than for day-to-day care.
The Irish Independent previously reported a survey in which doctors expressed their frustration with the scheme.
One said: "Every minor snotty nose is now brought to the doctor to collect a prescription for antibiotics."
There are 225,607 children now signed up, putting huge pressure on overloaded GP surgeries, many of which can no longer offer same-day appointments.
But despite this, more than 15,600 children under six are still not signed up for the free GP visit scheme a year after it was controversially introduced.
Dr Brendan O' Shea is medical director of K Doc, the GP co-op in Kildare and West Wicklow which serves a significant number of commuter belt families.
"A large part of the new workload created by the under-sixes relates to children of working parents, who because of their own tight schedules frequently present late in the evening to the co-op, rather than attending their own GP during the day," he said.
"This adds a further layer of work and complexity, with on-call GPs consulting more with children and parents who are not well known to each other."
He said: "We are currently delivering 60,000 face-to-face consultations per annum on the out-of-hours service."
This is an increase of 11pc, and it is understood that 40pc of this surge was in relation to children under six.
"The number of GPs available for the duty roster has diminished - due to some retirements, and continued loss of younger members to Australia particularly, " said Dr O' Shea, who also lectures in Trinity College.
However, he stressed that personally, he felt happy that financially squeezed parents could visit a GP more easily.
"While some parents are clearly appreciative, for many others, its a feeling of 'eaten bread, soon forgotten,' which is a pity, because easier access to primary care is a real and substantial benefit, and if properly supported, should arguably be made available to all members of our communities."
Figures obtained by Jack Chambers, Fianna Fáil TD for Dublin West, recently showed how many parents face a postcode lottery in getting a GP who will register their child.
Mr Chambers stressed there needs to be more support for GPs to ensure they have the resources to deliver best care to patients of all ages.
Of the 2,469 GPs with medical card contracts, some 2,303 have now signed up to the scheme.