24 June 2013: The quality of front-line patient care, the availability of community-based GP services and the overall role of GPs in Ireland is being severely compromised, putting patients at risk, warned Dr Patrick Crowley, GP at a recent meeting of the National Association for General Practitioners (NAGP).
“General practice in Ireland has been severely impacted in recent years – at the same time as our services are coming under greater pressure with an increased number of patients, we have seen swingeing cuts that reduce our ability to treat patients. GP services are now at breaking point. These further cuts will, I believe, see the closure of many GP practices and will mean that patients won’t be able to access GP care locally” said Dr Crowley.
The next round of FEMPI cuts at the hands of Minister James Reilly – expected to take effect from 01 July – will see further reductions in the budget available to GPs to run and staff their practices. The implementation of this cut will be the fourth such cut since 2010 and is part of measures which will see an overall reduction of €70 million to GPs, pharmacists and other primary care professionals this year alone.
“GP services are a vital part of community-based healthcare. Removing the ability of GPs to provide the level of care Irish patients have come to expect seems totally at odds with the Minister’s policy of pushing more services into the community” said Dr Crowley.
He continued: “In the NAGP we are gravely concerned about the impact these cuts will have on patient care. We anticipate that up to 8% of GP practices could close in the face of these cuts and will inevitably mean that patients will face waiting lists, have to travel for GP care and that out of hours and emergency services will be affected.”
“GPs are a 24/7 service for patients and their families – we provide care when and where it is needed. Pushing patients into the hospital system will increase overall health costs to the State while at the same time failing to provide care at the level it is required – it simply doesn’t make sense” concluded Dr Crowley.
Speaking on the upcoming cuts, CEO of the NAGP, Chris Goodey said: “This week alone saw the welcome proposal from Dr Susan O’Reilly that cancer patients be cared for in a primary care setting. We believe this is where the role of the GP has unique added value and can deliver safe, high-quality, effective support for patients. However, if practices are forced to close, GPs will be unable to provide this or any other care putting patients, their families and communities at risk. The NAGP are now calling on Government to ensure that GP services are protected.”
Irish research has shown that 90% of cases are managed directly by GPs thus reducing the workload and service pressures on already-overstretched secondary care services. This study clearly shows that for Irish patients, GPs remain the “first port of call” and provide a vital community health gatekeeper role which must be protected into the future.
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Ir J Med Sci 2011 Dec; 180 (4): 845. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/21667328 (Accessed online 20 June 2013).