–  ESRI report “Growing up in Ireland” confirms number of GP visits increased by 25 per cent per year among children who became eligible for free access to GP care

–  NAGP state the study is limited as the data was collected before free GP for under 6s was introduced so it likely underestimates the real impact

–  HSE reports that consultations with Under 6’s with access to free GP care increased by 65% in 2017

–  GP Union say general practice must be resourced before the service collapses

The National Association of General Practitioners has said that they believe access to care should be based on need rather than age. The GP union was reacting to the release of the ESRI’s “Growing up in Ireland” report launched today which reports that access to free care among patients aged 9 months and 3 years was linked to increased demand. The NAGP say that general practice is on the brink of collapse without adequate resourcing of existing services and that the extension of free GP care cannot be considered.

Dr Emmet Kerin, NAGP President, speaking about the report, said, “The NAGP supports a system that is fair and equal for all patients. We believe that access to free GP care should be based on need rather than age cohorts. The “Growing up in Ireland” study confirms what we are all aware of – if something is free then demand for it increases. General Practice is struggling to cope with the increased demand that the introduction of free GP care for under 6’s has caused. The service is on the brink of collapse and there are not enough GPs in Ireland to keep the service going at current levels. The impact of free under 6 care has been devastating on an already stretched service”.

As reported by the HSE, consultations with Under 6’s with access to free GP care increased by 65% in 2017. The HSE projects that 1380 more GPs will be needed to meet current demand by 2025. These projections are concerning given the existing critical shortage of GPs to meet current demand. For the first time ever, 10 GP training places remained unfilled in 2017 as doctors do not see general practice as a viable service in which they can work.

A recently published Irish College of General Practitioners survey of GP Trainees and recent graduates found that 30% of GP trainees are considering emigration while 18.1% of recent graduates have already emigrated.

Dr Kerin concluded, “Nearly half of our young GPs are emigrating in search of better terms and conditions abroad. We urgently need to address the ongoing crisis in General Practice if we are to deliver the health service that patients deserve as outlined in the all-party Slaintecare report. This must be the priority before any consideration is given to extending free GP care”.