GPs braced for a rise in surgery visits by over-70s
Doctors are expecting their over-70s patients to heavily use the free GP care available from next week, and make up to 10 surgery visits a year.
Currently patients who pay a private fee see their family doctor on average two to three times annually. But the GP-visit cards, allowing them to make unlimited trips to the surgery, will result in a significant rise in their use of the service, according to Dr Ken Egan, a GP in Ballindine in Co Mayo.
Dublin GP Dr Stephen Murphy, who has a practice in Cabinteely in south Dublin, estimated the average over-70 year old, who is entitled to free visits, could come around 10 times a year.
Registration for the scheme opened yesterday and it will become effective from Wednesday. The HSE reported that around 3,000 had signed up by late afternoon. Around 36,000 or more are entitled to the cards.
Dr Egan said: "There will be more visits and they will be quite demanding visits because of their age group."
They will still have to pay for medication and will not have the automatic support of the public health nurse.
"The public health nurse would be very valuable support to these people if they had a long-term illness," he said.
The additional visits by over-70s, on top of free GP care for around 270,000 children under-six, will make it more difficult for many surgeries to offer a same-day service
All 2,417 GPs who currently treat medical card holders will take on the over-70s who get a card from next week.
However, a minority of GPs who only see private patients will not offer the service. This means their over-70s patients will have to switch to another doctor, who had a medical card contract, if they want to avail of free visits.
This was highlighted by Age Action Ireland yesterday. Spokesman Justin Moran said the GP-visit cards for this age group was a step towards the restoration of universal health care.
Fianna Fáil pointed out that some 16,356 fewer people over 70 had full medical cards in the year to April 2015.
This is despite a steady increase in the population of older people, said Deputy Colm Keaveney.
He said the Government announced "a cull" in medical cards for the over-70s in 2013.
However, a spokesman for Health Minister Leo Varadkar countered that "it was Fianna Fáil that took away the universal entitlement to the medical card for the over-70s in their first austerity Budget back in 2008".
People can apply online at www.gpvisitcard.ie. Forms are also available at pharmacies and HSE local health centres.
It requires the person's name, PPS number, gender, date of birth, contact details and the selection of a GP of choice.
Lo-call 1890 252 919 to receive a copy of the application form by post.