THE struggle to see GPs in Carlow is leading to increasing numbers attending the out-of-hours Caredoc service.
Caredoc received €4.3 million in gross payments for operating the medical card scheme in 2018, the biggest figure in the country.
The service operates in Carlow, Kilkenny, south Tipperary, south Wicklow, Waterford, Wexford, Sligo, North Leitrim, West Cavan, Donegal.
One local clinic worker said the figure was in part due “to the overflow of people who can’t get GPs at the moment. They end up going to Caredoc”.
The source, who did not wish to be identified, believes that at least 75% of patients in Caredoc are medical card holders.
“It’s not ideal to have patients seen at night on a non-urgent basis. It would be better to have the facility to be seen during daytime.”
The issue brings to light the strain on GP clinics to provide an adequate service to patients.
Caredoc is staffed by a pool of local GPs and locums. However, the situation is less than attractive for local GPs.
“If you are working 40 hours a week and work two nights a week, something has to break,” said the clinic worker. “It’s harder and harder to get GPs working the nights. There is a huge demand for them.”
Bagenalstown GP, Dr Pascal O’Dea, who sits on the board of Caredoc, added the service was vital to rural areas.
“Caredoc keeps rural GPs in places like Myshall and Rathvilly,” he said. “Without Caredoc, you would see more GPs gravitating to big population centres.”
The aging profile of Carlow GPs does not bode well, with a significant number operating in Carlow town over the age of 60.
“There is a very small handful in their 30s,” said the source.
It is unattractive to set up a single doctor’s practice due to the demands of the role.
When Carlow town doctor Brendan Doyle passed away earlier this year, his medical card list, thought to number several hundred people, went to an existing practice after it was advertised.
Costly locum doctors are also thin on the ground.
“Long term, I don’t think the GP situation is sustainable,” said the source. “We are not training enough people in the country and a huge number are leaving the country.”