Irish Medical Organisation

Research suggests extending Free GP Visit Cards to Children could lead to 750,000 extra GP visits a year.

IMO warns that GP surgeries will be “overwhelmed”

Friday 11 April 2014. The Government’s plans to extend Free GP Visit Cards to Children Under Six could lead to as many as 750,000 additional visits to GPs a year according to research published in the April edition of the Irish Medical Journal (IMJ). The research examined GP visiting patterns involving children under six in different payment categories. It found that average consultation rates for Children with Free GP Visit Cards was over 5 per annum while the comparable rate for Children for which fees would be paid was just 2 per annum.

Speaking in response to the research findings, Dr. Ray Walley, Chairman of the GP Committee of the IMO, said such an increase in visitor numbers would “overwhelm” surgeries and lead to waiting lists for GP visits for the first time in this country. He said; “this research confirms our worst fears and highlights the lack of planning and thought that has gone into the Government’s plans.”
The study set out to determine consultation rates relating to Children Under the Age of Six by interrogating data from GPs' practice management systems. The study population was all children aged under six years who had first attended the practice more than 12 months previously and had also attended more than once in their lifetime.

A total of 1,931 children aged under six were eligible for inclusion in a cross sectional study of six General Practices. Of these, 1,277(66%) were private' patients, 583(30%) were GMS eligible and 71(4%) had Doctor Visit' cards. The 1,931 children were responsible for 5,814 surgery consultations during 2013 (a mean annual consultation rate of 3.01).

The mean annual consultation rate by patient category was: 4.91 for GMS patients, 5.07 for ‘Doctor Visit' patients and 2.03 for private patients. The combined out of hours and telephone consultation rates in the main author's practice were an additional 0.69 p.a. for 256 private patients and 0.8 p.a. for 60 GMS patients. The figures quoted in the study relate to children that received treatment only and do not take into consideration additional figures for new services.

The authors note that although the results of this study are considerably higher than that reported in much larger studies (e.g. Ireland's longitudinal study of childhood), this study is based on documented clinical activity as opposed to recollection by patient / parents and more consistent with international data which adopts a similar approach.

While policy that enhances access to primary care by introducing free general practice care is welcome, Behan et al state that “this study highlights the need for accurate data to allow effective planning and establishment of sustainable models of healthcare. Maximising the use of clinical records for this purpose (to complement data from large population surveys) is a priority.”

All references and author names are contained in the full article in this month’s IMJ, p. 121
Title: Does Eliminating Fees at Point of Access Affect Irish General Practice Attendance Rates in the Under 6 Years Old Population? A Cross Sectional Study at Six General Practices.

For further information contact:
Communications Unit, Irish Medical Organisation, 10 Fitzwilliam Place, Dublin 2.
Tel: 01 676 7273,, Twitter: @IMO_IRL

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