Online care is available at many places of care, including home and community settings.
The Health Service Executive (HSE) says this will change this Christmas.
In the interim, the HSE says the Health Care Information Exchange (HCIE) will be extended to allow more people to use it to access appointments online.
It’s an important step in tackling the growing gap in the availability of specialist and personalised care, with the average Irishman paying about €200 more for a GP appointment than he or she does at home.
The GP appointment, which is currently paid for by the GP and includes treatment for physical and mental health, is a critical component of a person’s overall care, says Dr Peter O’Leary, executive director of the HSI.
He believes this extension will also help patients and their families.
“There are many people who are very ill who cannot get their GP appointments in a timely manner, so if there is a significant increase in availability of GP services, it will allow for people to get appointments faster,” he said.
A major challenge The HSI estimates that nearly half of the 1.8 million appointments made in Ireland each year are done online.
But the service is struggling to meet demand, especially in rural and regional areas, where there is less demand.
The number of appointments made through the HCIE is down from 3.1 million in December 2016, but is expected to increase to 4.6 million this year.
It was a factor behind the closure of the GP surgeries at the weekend, as demand from rural areas had not been able to be met.
It is hoped the HCIPe will allow the HCIA to increase the number of GP appointments available to all patients by around 50%.
However, Dr O’Donnell believes that this is not enough.
“It is a matter of making sure that we are making sure the GP is providing services in the right place, and there is sufficient staff in place to provide services in that place,” he says.
The HSE said that it is aware of the difficulties faced by the HCIe and that it will work with the GP Association to improve the availability and quality of services.
“We are looking at the HCIQe and are working with it to ensure that the existing HCIE services are available to meet the needs of the population,” a spokesperson said.
In rural areas, the lack of GP appointment availability can be attributed to a lack of training for the community and the lack or absence of social support networks.
A report published by the Department of Health last year said that a significant number of people in rural areas were not properly trained to manage their GP, and that the services available were insufficient.
“The shortage of GP practitioners in rural Ireland means that a person may have no access to GP services when they need them,” the report said.
This was especially true in rural communities where people did not have the ability to access GP care through traditional channels such as a local health board or local authority.
There are also other reasons for the lack in access to health services, such as the difficulty of finding suitable accommodation, as well as the fact that people in these communities live with a chronic illness, and can have difficulties accessing the GP.
It also means that rural and rural-specific GP services can be limited, with some of the services being provided by the HIA.
In 2017, the Irish Medical Council (IMC) also reported a number of problems in the provision of GP care in rural Irish communities.
“In rural Ireland, it is difficult to get a GP to visit a GP in rural regions,” said Dr O ‘Donnell.
“This is due to the fact there is no access or availability of primary care or specialist services in rural health areas,” he added.
“Primary care is often provided by a local medical unit or health board, which does not have access to specialist services, so a GP may not be able to provide the treatment or assessment that they need.”
The HSA said that the number and types of GP surgeries that were available had increased significantly over the past three years.
It said the number was expected to continue to grow.
However, it admitted that some rural communities were still not well served by GP services.
In December 2016 it reported that rural services were in dire need of upgrades, as a result of the ageing population, lack of financial support, and the number being diverted to GP surgeries in urban areas.
“Many rural health services have not had access to the GP for years,” said a spokesperson for the HSA.
“At the moment, the number is limited and some rural health units and health boards are currently operating on a temporary basis due to lack of funding and staff,” he continued.
“Other areas in the country are experiencing growing demand for specialist care due to a number, but are unable to provide it.”
“Some rural health authorities are also faced with a number that is limited to primary care