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Caredoc: GPs that still care, and where to find them

The Mall Sligo Town. Photo by Daragh Moller

Doctor’s clinics in urban and rural locations nationwide this month continue to turn away new patients because of alarmingly low doctor numbers. The good news is doctors can still be found, but you have to look for them.

Caption: Doctors are choosing to emigrate. Photo by Tima Miroschnichenko for Pexels.com.

Students and immigrants seeking non-emergency medical treatment have likely been frustrated trying to find a doctor to treat them this winter, especially if they are new to the country or region and have not yet registered with a doctor in Ireland.

Family doctors in Ireland, known as general practitioners or GPs, traditionally treat minor or non-serious ailments from small clinics or “practices” in urban, suburban and rural locations. That is, until a countrywide shortage of doctors exposed the fact that newly qualified GPs were emigrating, and older retiring doctors were being left unreplaced.

This frustrating situation in the last few weeks was amply illustrated in the Northwest of the country. Of the 39 doctors listed for the Sligo County Area on the Sligo County Council website, 31 clinics told Thecircular.org they were unable to register any new patients for appointments, with 8 clinics remaining uncontactable. Prospective patients were asked by receptionists to “try again” in 3-6 months.

The public health service in Ireland or Health Service Executive (HSE) works with independent doctors to provide subsidized or free services to specific sectors of the population, using a medical card. A medical card entitles a patient to visit a doctor for free and to free prescriptions and hospitalization. A medical card can also provide HSE-approved access to GPs that is not available to non-medical card holders. Outside of the HSE, patients see doctors privately, at the discretion of each practice.

Although the situation for the unregistered patient outside the system is tenuous, and tedious, there is a solution. Caredoc and D-Doc, local-based neighborhood doctor’s organizations that provide badly needed out-of-hours, limited services to anyone, including non-registered Irish residents and new arrivals, and students, is an appointment-only service and costs around 70 a visit.

Caption: Caredoc offers professional services but will cost E70 per visit. Photo by MART PRODUCTIONS for Pexels.com.

The doc clinics are centrally located, in Dublin and regional cities, with further details listed below.  “If you have a valid medical card \ GP Visit card \ Under 6’s card at the time of consultation you are entitled to free GP visits to Caredoc,” the organization says on its website.

Caredoc was established in Ireland during the early phase of Covid-19 to help doctors manage the large number and diverse locations of patients needing treatment.

In Dáil Éireann, the national parliament, a debate on “General Practitioner Services” in November 2023 discussed doctor shortages.  Minister for Health Stephen Donnelly said “GPs are private practitioners, most of whom hold a contract with the HSE. Under the General Medical Scheme (GMS), the HSE contracts GPs to provide medical services without charge to medical card and GP visit card holders.  GPs are self-employed practitioners and therefore may establish practices at a place of their own choosing.

There is no prescribed ratio of GPs to patients and the State does not regulate the number of GPs that can set up in a town or community.” 1.

The Minister emphasized: “Neither my Department nor the HSE have any role in assigning patients who do not hold a medical card or a GP visit card to a GP’s patient list.” 2.

Private health insurance providers VHI today told thecircular.org that getting private insurance will have no impact on accessing a GP in Ireland. A Sligo Town pharmacist recommended online doctors myclinic.ie, now Healthhero.ie. However, where medical prescriptions are needed, online doctors mostly treat children with ADHD issues and have restricted prescription capability.

Sligo County Council said in a statement to thecircular.org: “The GP database on our website comes from the Keepwell section which was set-up as a community response initiative to the Covid 19 pandemic to support Council staff who were operating the helplines and as a resource for the public at that particular time. It has not been maintained or updated since that time.”

Doctor shortages is not news to Irish residents however, with reports in 2021 and 2022 already describing it as a “national crisis.”

Where to find Caredoc

While students do not normally qualify for a medical card, information is available to locate a care doctor service in your area:

D-Doc:

D-Doc is an out-of-hours emergency service run by local GPs in Dublin.  The D-Doc centres are open from 6pm to 8am Monday to Friday and 24 hours on weekends. Phone 1850 22 44 77. 

N.B. European Health Service Card holders will still be required to pay.

Caredoc for outside Dublin, Regional Rural locations:

Caredoc offers locally based, appointment-only, after-hours clinics in the following locations: Treatment Centres – Caredoc.

For appointments in the South East and South Wicklow phone 0818300365 or 0599138100. For appointments in Sligo, North Leitrim, West Cavan, phone 0818365399.

Caredoc is available from 6pm to 9am Monday to Friday and 24 hours on weekends. A fee of 70 is required per doctor visit.

College Medical Services:

Griffith College offers the following information on how to find doctors local to the Dublin campus: https://www.griffith.ie/help/health-services-gps

It is important to point out that student health services are not a medical card practice but that medical cardholders can register with a HSE/GMS doctor, if the doctor is accepting registration, which these days most are not.

Obtaining a Medical Card:

Mature students over 24 years of age may qualify for a medical card at medicalcard.ie or by contacting the HSE. Phone 0818224478 (9am to 5pm) or email clientregistration@hse.ie.

Ambulance Service

For an emergency ambulance service, phone 999/112.

References.

1. https://www.oireachtas.ie/en/debates/question/2023-11-15/140/

2. https://www.oireachtas.ie/en/debates/question/2023-06-29/448/

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