Doctors warn that thousands of promised free visits without a GP will end as waiting lists worsen

Waiting lists to see a GP will worsen as free GP cards are rolled out to around 500,000, doctors warned today.

Most GPs have now closed their lists to new patients, according to the Irish Medical Organization (IMO).

It was responding to a strategic review of family medicine, announced today by the Ministry of Health, to assess its various needs.

Dr. Denis McCauley, chair of the IMO’s GP committee, said that while the review is welcome, it is “deeply frustrating” that the review will come after the proposed roll-out of free GP care to an additional 500,000 people was announced.

“Such a policy, if implemented in an unplanned manner, will dramatically increase the frequency of visits to GPs, leading to delays, the creation of waiting lists for GP visits and the relocation of care for those patients who are most unwell .”

He added: “The news of the assessment clearly reflects a recognition that there are significant issues surrounding GP practice, including capacity, access to out of hours services and the adequacy of the existing financial model underpinning the GP service.

“However, it is deeply flawed that it will take place after moves that will directly increase the pressure on GPs across the country. We already have waiting times for GPs for routine appointments, most GPs have closed their lists to new patients because they are full.” and this policy will only exacerbate an already difficult situation.”

He warned that the demand for appointments already exceeds the capacity.

By expanding free GP care at the moment, people have the right but no access, he said.

It means relocation of care for those most ill and unrelenting pressure on GPs and their staff, “while cost will not be a barrier – access will be. There will be greater pressure on out-of-hours services that cannot be met.”

In response, the Irish College of General Practitioners (ICGP) said it welcomed the completion of the review.

It stressed the urgency of the GP crisis and said it “looks forward to the delivery of the report” this autumn.

ICGP Medical Director, Dr Diarmuid Quinlan, said: “We believe this strategic review will play a major role in identifying, finding and implementing urgent solutions to the primary care workforce and workload crisis. This is crucial to give patients timely access to GP care.

“We know that 14 percent of GPs are older than 65 years. This group of 500-600 GPs will probably retire in the next three to four years. We are training 70 percent more GPs than six years ago, we are dealing with a growing population and a higher demand for GP services.

“More and more patients cannot register with a GP and there are considerable waiting times for routine appointments.”

The former Chairman of the ICGP and the author of the ICGP discussion paper “Shaping the Future”, Prof. Tom O’Dowd, said: “We know that the solutions lie in the collaboration between key stakeholders and we can now start to process of finding, financing and implementing innovative solutions to this crisis.”