Patients are waiting twice as long as they did five years ago to see their GPs, says the the National Association of General Practitioners.
In a survey of 600 of its members, the NAGP found that the waiting time for a patient seeking a routine appointment was just under 10 hours in 2010.
In its latest research, earlier this month, it found that the average is now a day and 10 hours, meaning instead of a next-day appointment, most patients who call their local surgery now need to wait two days.
Half of GP practices said they see patients in the same day, and 13% offer appointments within three hours, but patients at one-in-seven surgeries wait three days.
Even for urgent appointments, the average wait is now five hours, compared with two hours in a similar survey five years ago.
Only 9% of GPs said routine waiting times are lower than they were in 2010.
Launching its Patient Wait campaign, NAGP chair of communications, Dr Yvonne Williams, said the trolley count operated by the Irish Midwives’ and Nurses’ Organisation is one of the few quality-and-efficiency barometers of the Irish health service that is easily understood by the public.
The association plans to issue monthly results, from December, of a waiting-time survey among a panel of 200 GPs to monitor any changes.
“These figures show how much pressure general practice is under, at the moment, and act as a warning sign for the safety of patients,” Dr Williams said.
“Long waiting times at emergency departments are a well-established phenomenon of the Irish health system, but these figures confirm that the issue has spread to general practices.
The reduction in, and illogical allocation of, resources within the sector are resulting in a multitude of crises that is now firmly rooted in general practice,” she said.
A HSE report last week warned of a shortfall of between 500 and 1,400 GPs within a decade, unless increased training places, and other measures, are introduced.
Anything between 50 and 140 additional places, each year, for new GPs may be needed, it said, the higher end of the scale taking account of the likely emigration of newly trained specialists.
Although most practices are now signed up to participation in the Government’s system of free GP care for children under six, the NAGP had been opposed to its introduction earlier this year.
It was not involved in negotiations on its operation, which took place between the Department of Health and the Irish Medical Organisation.
The NAGP said extending the scheme will compound current wait times for the sickest patients and put patient safety further at risk.
In Budget 2016, earlier this month, it was announced that free GP care will be extend to all children under 12 by the end of next year.
The association says that the vast majority of funding continues to be ploughed into the hospital system, despite more than 90% of day-to-day patient interactions taking place in general practice.
Almost two-thirds of NAGP members reported seeing more than 15 patients in an average clinic session, with 21% seeing more than 20 at an average session.
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