'Perfect storm' brews as half of GP clinics close door on new patients
Half the GP clinics in Dublin's suburbs and commuter towns cannot take on new patients, it has emerged.
The Irish College of General Practitioners (ICGP) - the professional body for general practice - said a "perfect storm" was brewing that would force families to attend overcrowded emergency rooms or travel greater distances to see a doctor.
A survey found 50pc of GP practices in the Dublin county area said they could take no more patients, while 17pc in Dublin central said that was the case.
Taken together, 45pc of doctors in Dublin city and county said they could not take any more patients.
Fianna Fail health spokesperson Stephen Donnelly said "years of failed Government policy" was contributing to the shortage.
Research by Trinity College showed the introduction of free GP care to under-sixes four years ago led to a 28pc increase in visits by that age group.
"This is a crisis," Mr Donnelly said. "Doctors have been treated with contempt since Fine Gael came into power. It is about time there was meaningful engagement with GPs.
"There are ways to address this. They need to start with accelerating the reversal of FEMPI [Financial Emergency Measures in the Public Interest] cuts, get more practice nurses in surgeries to relieve the pressure GPs are under and give them access to proper diagnostics and facilities."
Nationwide, a survey by the Sunday Independent found 44pc of GPs were unable to see new patients.
Dublin's commuter belt - counties Laois, Louth, Kildare, Meath and Wicklow - had the fewest available GPs, with 56pc of practices unable to take a new patient.
336 practices were contacted, approximately one third of surgeries nationwide, to gauge the number that have shut the door to new patients.
Each was asked if they were taking new patients, with 148 responding "no".
ICGP spokesman Dr Liam Twomey, a GP in Wexford, said doctors were under increasing time constraints when seeing patients.
"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 some have to attend overcrowded A&E services in local hospitals when they cannot access a local GP," he said.
"We are entering the perfect storm - a growing population with fewer doctors against a background of greater complexity of care, greater demand and a Government policy to expand free GP care despite the lack of doctors to meet demand."
The ICGP called for a doubling of investment in primary care and an increase in the number of GPs being trained.
Health Minister Simon Harris said a programme of investment and reform was under way to address the crisis, referencing a new €210m agreement with the Irish Medical Organisation to ensure the sustainability of general practice.
The agreement includes proposals to extend free GP care to children aged six to 12 on a phased basis, starting next year.
"The agreement will also allow for additional measures for GPs in rural areas and areas of urban deprivation," he said.
"We are now providing a significant number of GP training places. I have no doubt these new measures and this new funding will help ensure young people continue to enter the profession."