Free care plan ‘to lead to 4m extra visits to GPs’

Government plans for free GP care for all could result in 4m additional visits to family doctors each year, medics have warned.

The Irish Medical Organisation claimed the healthcare system is not structured to cope with such an anticipated increase in GP visits.

Research conducted on behalf of the IMO showed there is likely to be a 16% increase in visits to family doctors if the Government extends free GP services to all as planned by 2016.

At present, around 24m consultations with family doctors take place in surgeries each year.

The survey also revealed that medical card holders and those with GP visit cars are more than twice as likely to visit their family doctor as private patients.

On average, medical card holders visit their GP almost eight times a year compared to private patients, who visit their GP 3.35 times on average per annum.

IMP spokesman Ray Walley said the research highlighted the need for intensive, sophisticated planning prior to any decision to extend free GP services.

“The research confirms what we have long argued, which is that patients visit their GPs more often when they have medical cards of GP visit cards,” said Dr Walley.

He claimed the findings suggested doctors would be unable to cope with the demand for their services if the Government pushes ahead with their current proposals.

Meanwhile, nurses, and midwives are considered to be the most honest and ethical profession, the first every study of public attitudes has revealed, while politicians were rated lower than car salesmen for their honesty.

Nurses and midwives were ranked “high” or “very high” in honesty and ethics by 79% of the public.

The online study by Amárach Research, commissioned by the Nurses and Midwifery Board Ireland, conducted a survey of more than 1,000 people to identify public perception of nurses and midwives and how it compares with other professions as well as assess awareness of their expanded roles.

It revealed nurses and midwives were the most trusted profession, followed by pharmacists and doctors. They were also regarded as the most caring and compassionate profession.

Dentists were considered honest and ethical by 64% of respondents, followed by teachers (62%). Just over half of those surveyed regarded gardaí as honest and ethical, while priests, civil servants and journalists were even less well regarded.

Politicians achieved the lowest approval rate, with just 7% regarding them as honest, lower than car sales people (9%), bankers (10%), and estate agents (11%).

Almost 60% of respondents said they or a family member had been looked after by a nurse or midwife in the previous two years.

Of those surveyed, more than three quarters said they had never made a complaint against a nurse or midwife. However, 5% said they had made a complaint, while a further 18% said they had considered making one.

The provision of safe and reliable patient care was ranked as the most important responsibility of nurses and midwives followed by bedside care.

Two thirds of people agreed the healthcare system is producing nurses and midwives with the right skills to meet the needs of patients. However, a similar percentage were unaware of their expanded role in prescribing medication or that they can order X-rays and diagnose and treat certain illnesses without the involvement of doctors.

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