Patients needing vital scans sent to overcrowded A&Es
GPs are forced to send patients in need of "urgent" investigations for potentially life-threatening illnesses to overcrowded A&Es because many still have no direct access to vital diagnostics such as ultrasound, it was revealed yesterday.
The public patients, who are not covered by health insurance, might otherwise have to be put on a hospital waiting list for a consultant where they risk facing months before being seen.
The stark insight into the plight of public patients who are in need of scans to find out if they have a potentially serious illness is revealed in a report, 'A Future Together - Building a better GP and Primary Care Service', launched by the HSE.
Patients are having to resort to A&Es to get screened even though they may have conditions that do not make it "advisable" to be in such cramped surroundings.
One GP said the lack of direct access to these scans is a "rationing technique".
In other cases the GPs are so swamped with work that they are choosing to send a patient, who could be in serious peril, to A&E simply because they do not have enough time to fully examine them.
The report, which involved interviews with GPs, patients and other groups, comes in the wake of recent statistics from the National Cancer Registry showing people from less well-off backgrounds are more likely to find out they have the disease after an emergency presentation.
The GP findings also show that one-in-three people has been unable to visit the doctor due to the cost.
The worst hit are people in their 20s, 30s and early 40s.
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Although the Government has promised to extend free GP care, beyond the under-sixes and over-70s, Health Minister Simon Harris yesterday put a dampener on expectations.
He acknowledged that "too many parents go to bed at night worrying about being able to pay €55 or €60 for their child to see the doctor in the morning".
But he signalled that the next State scheme may not be free GP care with unlimited visits.
Instead, patients would be subject to a co-payment with a cap on the amount of times they can see a doctor under the scheme.
However, the findings reveal that private patients are propping up the GP service.
The total public and private spend on GPs annually is around €858.6m.
The State pays them €543m through the medical card and other schemes with private patients accounting for €315.6m.
It means that 58pc of the population is responsible for 37pc of GP income.
Yet private patients visit their doctors an average of 2.69 times a year compared to 5.63 for medical card patients.
The report is key to the long-awaited plan to transfer more services to GPs and community care and remove them from hospitals.
However, it is likely to cost €500m a year in transitional funding over a decade.
The report highlights the hurdles that have to be cleared - including the need to increase the numbers of GPs and also more practice staff.
Talks are currently under way with GPs to agree on a new contract which would be a step towards them taking on more work for more pay.