Wednesday 13 December 2017

Huge imbalance in patient access to GPs across country, says report

Medical Council chief executive Bill Prasifka Photo: Gerry Mooney
Medical Council chief executive Bill Prasifka Photo: Gerry Mooney
Eilish O'Regan

Eilish O'Regan

Patients in Meath, Kilkenny and Leitrim have much less choice of GP than people in Galway, Westmeath and Waterford, according to a new census.

While there are 68 GPs per 100,000 population in Galway, the rate is only half as high in Leitrim.

Click here to view full-size graphic
Click here to view full-size graphic

The stark imbalance was unveiled in a workforce survey carried out by the Medical Council, the doctors' regulatory body yesterday.

It comes amid increasing concern about the workload faced by doctors in various areas of the profession and the risks of burnout.

Medical Council President Freddie Wood, a retired cardiac surgeon, said the number of doctors supported by its health committee has risen.

Last year, 51 doctors were assisted by its health committee, mostly for mental health difficulties. Another 23 received help for substance abuse.

"It unreasonable to think that doctors are any different to the general public. At any one time in life, up to one third of people can have psychological or psychiatric problems," he said.

The profession was dominated by men who adopted the "stiff upper lip" approach to stress. But international studies show a high risk of suicide among doctors and dentists.

Doctors who are working in anaesthesia have been cited in studies as having a higher suicide risk.

He recognised the need for more "pastoral" support for doctors early on and faced criticism for proposing it.

But the demand is now being recognised.

The Council findings highlighted the growing ranks of women among the medical profession which will have implications for healthcare delivery due to the numbers with requirements for flexible working hours.

Commenting on the striking trend, Medical Council chief executive Bill Prasifka said: "The majority of those on the register between the ages of 30-44 are female; however, from 44 years and on, the number of females on the register begins to decrease.

"Some 40pc of female trainees - or tomorrow's specialists - want to work less than full-time and this definitely poses some questions for the health sector and all of those involved in the future planning of Ireland's healthcare service."

The watchdog's annual report said the number of doctors registered here, 20,473, is at a record high. But there remains a serious shortage of consultants in different specialties with hospitals finding it difficult to fill vacancies.

The exit rate - doctors who left the register, including many who went to work abroad - went up to 6.4pc from 5.6pc in 2014.

Ireland remains hugely reliant on foreign doctors, with nearly four in 10 medics working here from abroad.

The highest ranks of doctors who qualified abroad are from Pakistan, Sudan, the UK, South Africa and Romania.

They are mostly working in obstetrics, emergency medicine and surgery.

Complaints against doctors rose to 369 in 2015, up from 308 the previous year.

Most were made by the general public and 25 by other health professionals.

Just two complaints about doctors were made by the HSE.

Prof Wood criticised the low rate of complaints by the HSE.

He pointed out that employers in other countries account for around a quarter of referrals.

The number of complaints about poor communication by doctors rose by 40pc.

Other allegations related to poor professional skills, failure to treat patients with dignity, diagnosis, clinical investigations and inadequate follow-up care.

Seven complained about a doctor's language skills and three related to personal relationships with patients.

Most of the 452 doctors complained about were Irish medical graduates and 317 were men.

Around one in 10 complaints goes on to a full fitness-to-practise hearing involving the doctor. There were 35 fitness-to-practise inquiries into serious allegations against doctors during the year, half of which were held in public.

Five doctors were struck off.

Irish Independent

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