The Government has been criticised for “once again putting the cart before the horse” by announcing an extension of free GP care at a time when GPs are already under immense pressure.
It was announced in Budget 2022 that free GP care would be extended to children aged six and seven. Those aged five and under can already avail of free care.
However, the move has been strongly criticised by the Irish Medical Organisation (IMO) and the Irish College of General Practitioners (ICGP).
According to Dr Denis McCauley, chair of the IMO’s GP Committee, what was needed in this Budget was supports to increase capacity in general practice and attract more GPs.
“Instead, Government has once again put the cart before the horse and announced an extension of free GP care on an already overburdened service. This move, while popular with politicians, will inevitably add to waiting times,” he insisted.
He pointed out that the “vast majority” of general practice is already working at over 100% capacity in an attempt to meet patient demand. Furthermore, many GPs have been unable to take any leave during the pandemic due to a shortage of locums and an increased workload.
Dr McCauley called on the Government to invest in measures to increase capacity and enable practices to take on more doctors and support staff.
This call was echoed by the ICGP, which said that free GP care simply cannot be delivered without “considerable expansion of the GP workforce and innovative solutions to GP workload pressures”.
It is estimated that Ireland needs over 2,000 GPs over the next decade in order to deal with population growth and retiring GPs. Over 700 GPs are due to retire in the next 10 years.
“Many GP practices are unable to take on new patients due to workload pressures and a shortage of GPs. Innovative solutions are needed to address these workforce problems,” commented Dr Diarmuid Quinlan, medical director of the ICGP.
The organisation has renewed its call for the urgent establishment of a Working Group on Future General Practice.
“This would enable stakeholders and policy makers to plan that patients are able to see their GP when they need to, and plan for expanded GP services and access to diagnostics.
“We saw during the COVID-19 pandemic how central and significant the role of general practice is in Irish healthcare. Now is the time for GPs to be central to the plan for future healthcare delivery,” Dr Quinlan added.