GPs have called for 24-hour access to diagnostic facilities as an urgent and essential first step in easing pressure on hospital emergency departments (EDs).
Because of the current “illogical situation”, GPs are forced to refer patients to already overcrowded EDs for simple diagnostic tests, a lobby group has claimed.
The National Association of General Practitioners (NAGP) has made a number of proposals to ease ED overcrowding in a submission to the Emergency Department Taskforce.
Members of the taskforce includes senior doctors, lead hospital consultants, HSE national directors, union representatives, and senior officials from the HSE acute hospital directorate and the Department of Health.
The NAGP, which has 1,450 members, argues it should be represented on the ED taskforce because it has a valuable contribution to make in improving ongoing ED overcrowding.
The association said ED staffing had risen considerably in recent years but even those departments that had been extended and were better resourced had become too small and too busy within 18 months.
It said EDs in Ireland tended to see themselves as part of the hospital system when, in reality, they were a revolving gateway between a community and its hospital.
“Despite this, it is unusual to see a local ED working with local GPs or engaging GPs in the utilisation of their own local ED departments,” the NAGP said.
“ED departments resist the involvement of GPs in their service, despite local and international evidence of the benefits of such involvement.”
The NAGP said there was international evidence to show that integrating GP co-operatives with EDs substantially improved ED use, reduced self-referral and supported the ED in providing more efficient care to higher risk patients.
In a bid to ease ED overcrowding, the NAGP wants the co-operative GP model expanded to all areas and to establish formal and regular dialogue between EDs and local GPs. It also wants increased integration between EDs and general practice.
It said an extended role for co-ops could include daytime services and facilities for ED staff to work in the community, if only to change the culture of such departments.
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