Over-50s who have medical cards visit GP more
PEOPLE over 50 with a medical card are making on average of two additional visits a year to their doctor.
A new report said this finding has implications for the Government's plans to extend free GP care to everyone, suggesting that if the visit costs nothing, people will attend their GPs more.
It said that at the time of the survey, nearly 70pc of the population were paying for GP and hospital services and the rest had medical cards, even though this proportion has increased since.
The report, from Trinity College Dublin, looked at the use of health services by older people arising out of findings from the Irish Longitudinal Study on Ageing.
It found that, as people age, they went to their GP more, but there was no increase in the use of outpatient clinics or emergency departments by people in their 60s to 80s.
"Similarly, hospital admissions are no higher for those from 60 years upwards, but the stay in hospital tends to be longer," the report – Patterns and Determinants of Healthcare Utilisation in Ireland – found.
The report predicts that use of health services by older people in Ireland will face growing pressures as the population ages.
It said: "Despite being the wealthiest part of the elderly population, older people without medical cards are not using a range of important community services – they are less likely to see a chiropodist or a physiotherapist or a dentist.
"This suggests that it is not simply financial barriers that are important in people getting access to services."
Married people have longer hospital stays than those who are single, but this may be because single people are more likely to be discharged to other types of institutional care.
"Some service use decreases with age, in particular dental care. Other services are not affected significantly by age," said the report.
"Those without medical cards are low users of community services. This suggests that practical as well as financial barriers reduce use of services such as chiropody."
Commenting on the findings, Trinity health economist Prof Charles Normand said: "Recent budget cuts have tended to fall heavily on precisely the services that are likely to be most under pressure, especially those that support people to remain at home or to leave hospital when their treatment is complete."