Counties like Offaly are being left behind when it comes to essential services like access to a GP as the stark figures show GPs are unable to take on new patients.
According to a survey in the Sunday Independent, enquiries to 350 doctors across the country show 40 per cent of GPs surveyed in Offaly and over fifty per cent of those surveyed in Tipperary are unable to see new patients and that rural areas are worst hit by the crisis as overrun GPs turn away new patients.
According to Irish College of General Practitioners (ICGP), the survey highlighted the widespread pressure on families and patients moving to new areas and trying to join a local GP practice and due to increased patient numbers, greater complexity of care, and difficulty recruiting new GPs, many practices have been unable to take on new patients.
Dr Liam Twomey, Spokesperson for the ICGP said: “If a family or individual is unable to register with a local GP, it means many of them are faced with travelling long distances to see their GP in the area they came from; GPs have noticed an increasing trend of patients attending out-of-hours services in evenings and weekends to be seen by a GP, and it means that some have to attend overcrowded A&E services in local hospitals when they cannot access a local GP.”
Locally, the ICGP confirmed to the 'Tribune' that most GPs in Birr are not taking new patients and without a GP in their area, people needing GP services must travel longer distances to e.g. Tullamore to find a GP service and some have had to travel to the A&E or use the out of hours Midoc service, also in Tullamore for their care.
The 'Tribune' had cause to contact two doctors surgeries in Birr in the last few months. In the first case, they were advised by this surgery they weren't in a position to take on new patients while the second practice informed them to contact the surgery at a later date to see if they were able to take on new adult patients.
In other cases, the 'Tribune' understands that potential patients remain on waiting lists in order to get on the books of a local GP in places like Tullamore while others are left with little choice but to travel to neighbouring towns in order to visit a GP or wait long periods of time for routine check-ups and appointments with their GP. And, this growing crisis is against a background of the local Midoc service closing in Birr in 2018.
Slamming the survey's findings, Cllr John Leahy stated: “Rural counties like Offaly continue to be left behind in every aspect of service provision. The Sunday Independent piece on GP services demonstrates this again. It tells that almost half of GPs in rural areas are full to capacity and can't take on new patients. We all know in Offaly how hard it is to get an appointment to see a GP.”
“The Government and others can talk all they like about Slainte Care but if we can't provide an adequate GP service as a state, well then our health service is doomed. Again though, the piece in the Independent shows the urban centres like Dublin, Cork and Galway are much better provided for in this regard. The Government continue to claim that they are providing for rural Ireland. The reality, however, is we continue to be left behind, it's as if we don't matter.”
Responding to the Sunday Independent figures, local TD, Carol Nolan, TD called on the Minister for Health, Simon Harris, TD to convene an “immediate stakeholder forum” on the crisis afflicting the provision of rural GP services.
“The statistics that have emerged from this investigation are stark and deeply concerning. In Laois, a shocking 100% of GPs that were contacted said they could not take on any additional patients, while in Offaly, only a mere 20 % take on new patients. What is most frustrating about these figures is that Minister Harris only made the point in February when he was before the Joint Committee on Health, that access levels had improved, and the patient experience was getting better. This is completely betrayed by the facts and the chaos affecting GP capacity to increase availability of appointment times in their surgeries.”
“There are also questions for the Taoiseach, because it was he, who as Minister for Health in 2015, introduced the Free Under 6s GP card despite the fears of GP representative bodies around the inability to absorb additional numbers without heaping pressure on doctors and patients alike. What we needed was targeted care for the sickest children and their families. Instead, then Minister Varadkar and after him, Minister Harris, have continued to drive through access policies that are actually harming those most in need in Offaly and Laois.”
Concluding, Deputy Nolan stated: “That is something we need to have rectified immediately and it is something I for one will be fighting for.”