GPs have been told in a joint letter from the Irish Medical Organisation (IMO) and the HSE that they should work longer daily shifts and on Saturdays for the next four weeks to cope with the surge in influenza, Covid-19 and other respiratory illnesses.
General Practitioners nationwide received the letter by email on Friday evening just hours prior to them going on Christmas leave or starting emergency cover for the festive period.
However, hundreds of GPs countrywide have said they were never consulted about the move by the IMO and HSE which kicks in on St Stephen’s Day and lasts until Friday, February 3rd next year while GP Co-ops will operate these additional hours until the 28 of that month.
However, the IMO claims that 500 GPs have already signed up to the extra hours which mean working from 5pm to 7pm three days a week and from 9am to 1pm on Saturdays.
GPs are already being stretched to the limit which is backed up by a recent study which shows that it is expected there will be 1,380 less of them by 2025. There is a current workforce of 3,923.
Last year the Medical Council of Ireland reported a need for 42 per cent more GPs.
In the joint email GPs have been told that General Practice is experiencing a significant surge in patient demand due to the prevalence of influenza, Covid-19 and other respiratory illness and is already overwhelming Emergency Departments nationwide.
The email states: “Many practices are already working over and above their routine scheduled clinics and (as such) the IMO has agreed with the HSE to provide support for GPs to run additional clinics during this exceptional period.
“GPs may bearing in mind the needs of their own patients and the practice capacity,” according to the email, “schedule extended/additional clinics weekday evenings from 5pm to 7pm and Saturdays from 9am to 1pm."
The clinics are only for medical and GP card patients along with private patients.
The GPs have been informed they will receive additional pay which will be the full STC (temporary support for General Practice) rate of €41.63 for GMS (medical card) patients.
The IMO has also agreed additional supports of out of hours services which are explained in the letter.
“There will be increased grant funding and additional supports to enhance treatment centres between the hours of 6pm and 10pm.
For Out-of-Hour Co-ops this measure will run for a longer time period from St Stephen’s Day until February 28th with a target of securing 100 additional GPs into the roster during this limited period.
“It is recognised that all GP sessions are a mix of GMS and private patients, and that practice should continue for the extended/additional sessions.
“It is also recognised that practices will face operational costs associated with the delivery and administration of additional clinics and the following practice support will be paid as a once off measure at the end of the four-week period,” the email adds.
Each practice does not need to commit to the full time period of four weeks according to the IMO and HSE and they say there is no requirement to notify them if the GP practice is participating.