A national survey of 100 GPs across the country has found that 63% of respondents are convinced patients who should be accessing the service are delaying visiting their local doctor due to their current financial situation.
However, despite the concerning finding, almost the same number of GP respondents (58%) have said they are opposed to any attempt to force them to reduce their fees.
Under existing price-fixing legislation there is no exact cost for visiting a GP, who is considered an individual business by the law, meaning that local doctor fees can vary between €45 and €65.
The survey, conducted in recent weeks by the Irish Medical Times, has highlighted a serious consequence of this situation, with almost seven out of every 10 GP respondents indicating that patients are avoiding the cost of medical treatment until absolutely necessary.
Meanwhile, the survey has also found that the impact of the recession is being felt in more ways than one by the Irish public, with 77% of GPs stating that they have treated patients for mental health and stress issues directly related to the plummeting finances.
According to the survey, just over three-quarters of local doctors reported instances of health-related credit crunch concerns.
One respondent wrote “definitely, definitely, definitely” when asked if instances of stress, depression and other ailments linked to the decline in the Irish economy have increased since last autumn.
Among the patients of the 100 GPs who participated in the survey, three had attempted suicide because of their changed financial circumstances, with those who have responsibility for cutting jobs as part of their work also presenting with depression and stress issues.
Just one in five GPs said they have not witnessed any increase in mental health concerns.
Other issues raised by the survey include wides- pread support among general practitioners for the Government’s national cancer control programme, which includes the transfer of existing services at the South Infirmary Victoria University Hospital to Cork University Hospital later this year.
Despite the service transfer causing anger among breast cancer patients and others in the HSE South, 70% of GPs who responded to the survey said they were supporting Prof Tom Keane’s cancer service reform policy.