Out-of-hours GP services in the North East stretched to capacity over Christmas

Out-of-hours GP services in the North East stretched to capacity over Christmas

Out-of-hours GP services in the North East were stretched to capacity over Christmas and unable to meet demand, according to a doctor.

On both New Year’s Eve and January 2nd, night-time clinics in Cavan, Monaghan, Louth (excluding Dundalk), Meath and north county Dublin were booked to capacity two hours before they opened.

“By 4pm, every appointment was booked up to 1am. [Home visits] were delayed and that was when the decision was made to stop taking appointments for a time to make sure doctors could see everyone,” Dr Illona Duffy, medical director of NEDOC [North East Doctor on Call] told The Irish Times.

“It was a big thing because we have never had to take a decision to stop taking appointments. It would have been like a war zone. There were no seats available and people were standing, waiting to be seen, because there would have been a backlog.”

Others, unable to get through to the phone line, simply arrived without appointments.

Dr Duffy said there were parents who were beginning to use after-hours services as their regular GP service. “They say they are working tomorrow and they don’t want to take off time,” she said.

“Life is pressurised and you know it’s pressurised for parents. We understand but at the same stage it does create problems.”

A major factor behind rising demand for out-of-hours services is a simple lack of public understanding and responsible use of the services, she said. One patient arrived on a busy night with a minor ailment simply because he was coming in with a family member and decided to use the opportunity.

Over the years, Dr Duffy believes, successive ministers for health have failed to get on top of a growing problem.

“They have never listened. The fact that general practice still accounts for less than 3 per cent of the health budget is appalling. In the UK it’s 9 per cent and they are in crisis. The solution is absolutely resourcing general practice,” she says.

“There are solutions and we are there to help provide them but there has to be a willingness to talk, and not just talk but to fund it.”

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