GPs called on to replace ambulance staff at night
GPs who operate co-ops to cover urgent care in the evenings and overnight have warned they are being inappropriately called on to provide emergency treatment for critically ill patients in place of ambulance crews.
Ambulance staff who are not able to make it to patients on time are asking GPs to travel to the patients instead.
Dr Ken Egan, chairman of the Irish Association of Co-operatives, said the issue is becoming a particular problem in the west of Ireland, where response times for ambulances can be worryingly slow.
"The daily GP's day is becoming more onerous, with an offensive work load. It cannot be expected that these same GPs provide an intensive out-of-hours service or prop up other services after hours," he warned.
He said the worrying trend was highlighted at the annual meeting of the 11 GP co-ops.
"It was agreed at the annual meeting that it was inappropriate for co-ops to be requested to provide services for patients requiring critical care or life-support treatment.
"This should be provided by emergency care physicians in hospital emergency departments.
"It was also stressed by the GPs that it was inappropriate for co-ops to be asked to fill gaps in ambulance and mental health services," he added.
Dr Egan said there was little a GP can do in many instances and they had to wait until the ambulance arrived.
"It stops the public complaining," he added.
The lack of mental health services out-of-hours also means that GPs are having to spend long periods talking on the phone to patients who are in distress.
He pointed out this was not the correct service for patients in psychological stress who needed specialist care.
"They fear that if they go to A&E they may be just left sitting there," he added. "They are very welcome (to call) but it means that somebody in urgent need may be unable to get through."
Dr Egan also claimed the extension of free GP care to children under six was leading to a higher workload for doctors.
"Doctors are now beginning to notice an increase," he said.
"It is still too early but the indications are there could be a 15pc increase in attendances by children under six. Some are even reporting a rise of 20pc."
He said when a service is free, parents are more likely to call the doctor for reassurance.
"It's very hard to be critical of anyone bringing in a child. But it is easier to come (now).
"If a crèche tells a mother the child is sick, the pressure is on her to bring him or her to the doctor."
The out-of-hours GP co-ops are also being used by adults who cannot get an early appointment with their own GP during the day, he added.