OVERWHELMED GPs in Carlow town are turning away new patients due to their workload. Currently, not one general practice in Carlow town is taking on new patients, The Nationalist has learned.
Local practices cite the unattractiveness of being a GP in Ireland as leading to a shortage of doctors and increasing the strain on practices. GPs say that to maintain patient care they have been forced to stop taking on new patients.
“I think it’s appalling, terrible for people,” said Dr Declan Woods of Carlow Medical, Shamrock Plaza. “But there is only so much we can physically do.”
Shay Conroy, practice manger of the Dolmen Family Medical, illustrated how unattractive being a GP in Ireland is at the moment. The practice advertised for a GP in a UK publication late last year, both online and in print, but it didn’t receive a single inquiry. Many Irish GPs are choosing to emigrate to work in Australia, Canada and in Britain for better pay and conditions.
“There is a huge problem in general practice because there are no GPs available … none,” added Mr Conroy.
There are fears that an epidemic such as a flu outbreak would push existing services to breaking point.
Deterring new GPs is a 38% cut in the general medical services contract since 2008, while practitioners are regularly working 50- or 60-hour weeks.
“The government are extremely aware of the shortage but have buried their heads in the sand. They have continued to do this,” said Mr Conroy.
Mr Conroy said he knew of five doctors who, in recent years, had completed costly state-funded GP training courses but had all moved on to more attractive medical jobs. The situation is only going to get more acute, as it’s expected that five GPs in the Carlow area will retire within two years
“There is nobody, and I mean nobody, to replace them,” said Mr Conroy.
Dr Woods added: “If one looks around Carlow town itself, the vast majority of doctors in Carlow have been here 25 years or more. In addition to our population aging, the population of GPs is aging as well.”
The situation is leading to Caredoc becoming inundated with people, while others have to travel outside the town for treatment. One Carlow doctor told The Nationalist he would consider taking on new patients if they were related to an existing patient.
In many cases, the HSE is circumventing doctors by assigning a medical card holder to a GP.
“We don’t get an opportunity to turn them down then,” said Dr Woods. “But you can’t deal with it that way indefinitely into the future.”
Dr Woods believes there is no quick fix to the solution and there needs to be a reappraisal of the GP role.
“I think the idea of throwing money at the problem and that will solve it – that ship has sailed a long, long time ago,” he said. “I think general practices, as you have grown up with, are going to be gone.”
There is no timeframe for when practices will take on patients, but Dolmen Family Medical, for example, did not expect to take new patients over the winter months.
“We could try to fire people through and see a big number on the day but I would argue that is not good medicine,” said Mr Conroy.
“And it’s not the way that I would like my parents, my brothers or nieces and nephews to be looked after. We all deserve better than that,” he added.