Cork’s SouthDoc service is under increasing pressure as it sees more patients who are unable to get a GP appointment because of massive backlogs in the system.
The out-of-hours GP service provides access to family doctor services for urgent medical needs.
However, it is increasingly being used as an alternative to a GP appointment because of long waits to see a doctor.
Cork GP Dr Nick Flynn said the SouthDoc service is “just about functioning” at the moment but that any further increase in demand could see it reach crisis stages.
He said the service has seen an increase in patients attending because they cannot get an appointment with their GP for days or even weeks.
“We’ve been seeing it for ages and we were predicting it long before that,” he added.
Dr Flynn said the initiative to provide free medical care to children under six has had a major impact.
“Whereas before, parents may have attended with their children two or three times a year, now it’s five or six times and that’s squeezing available appointments out of the system.
“There’s also no evidence to suggest the scheme has led to increased health benefits for under sixes.
“In an effort to be popular, the government has inadvertently ensured that patients are having more difficulty getting an appointment with their own GP and are now being forced to turn to SouthDoc,” he added.
“Another initiative like this will see the out of hours service go beyond capacity and then it will begin to impact even more on Emergency Departments as people seek treatment.
“We’re in the eye of the storm at the moment but in five years, we’ll be living in the wreckage of it,” warned Dr Flynn.
“Too many GPs will have retired or left and there won’t be enough to deal with the demand for appointments.”
He said the government needs to do more to entice GPs back to Ireland.
“There are thousands of Irish GPs, all well trained, working in the UK, Canada, Australia, and across the world, and we need to entice them home now.”