What we know about the nature of general practice in Ireland today?

The GP is usually the first port of call for someone who is feeling unwell. However, changes in the Irish healthcare system including the establishment of free childcare for under 6’s, shortages in GPs to staff rural areas, an increased number of individuals with medical cards and patients’ desire to avoid the chaos of accident and emergency departments nationwide, have resulted in more time pressure on, and more stressful working conditions for, GPs. It is well known that stress can have a negative effect on performance and that people are more likely to make mistakes or errors when carrying out tasks while stressed. We also know that healthcare professionals do make mistakes: a recent study conducted in Irish hospitals found that doctors will make a mistake during the treatment of about 10-12% of patients. Many of these mistakes are not identified when they occur and patients may suffer as a result.

What we are not sure about

It’s not clear what the risk of experiencing error or harm is to patients seeing their GP in Ireland.

What this study is exploring

This study is looking at two things:

  • How safe do those working in general practices, such as doctors and nurses and receptionists, think patients receiving care at their practice are? We want to know if these individuals think that patients and their health are prioritised in Irish general practices or if current conditions have reduced the quality of care patients receive when seeing their GP.
  • How commonly do GPs make mistakes or errors when caring for patients? Patients’ charts will be reviewed by medical professionals in order to identify times when there may have been an error or incorrect decision made in the care of a patient.

Why is this study important

Doctors’ main priority and focus is to ensure their patients’ wellbeing. However, it is clear that working conditions may not be perfect and that Irish GPs may be under a lot of stress or pressure that could contribute to their making mistakes or errors when caring for their patients. This study will help us understand if errors in general practice are common and perhaps why they are occurring. This knowledge is essential for figuring out what changes need to be made in general practice to make sure that patients receive the best care possible and are set on the path to good health.

Who can take part

People who work in general practices- receptionists, nurses, GPs, practice managers- can take part in this research study. We are not looking for patients to take part during this stage of the research.

What will the study involve?

Everybody who takes part will be asked to complete several questionnaires that ask them to report on their perceptions of the safety of patients in their practice. A number of the doctors who take part will be asked to review the files of patients attending their practice in order to identify any mistakes or errors that may have been made in their care.

For more information

Researchers at the Discipline of General Practice, National University of Ireland, Galway are running this study. For more information please contact Sinead Lydon.