Original Research

Simulated GP clinic closure: effects on patient access in the Irish Mid-West


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Eric Harbour
1 BScH *

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Fintan Stanley
2 PhD

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Monica Casey
1,3 MSc (Primary Care)

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Michael E O'Callaghan
1,2 BMBS

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Liam G Glynn
1,3 FRCGP, Professor of General Practice and General Practitioner ORCID logo


1 School of Medicine, University of Limerick, Limerick, Ireland

2 The Irish College of General Practitioners, Dublin, Ireland

3 HRB Primary Care Clinical Trials Network, NUI Galway, Galway, Ireland

ACCEPTED: 7 May 2024

early abstract:

Introduction: Rural communities can experience more barriers to access health care than their urban counterparts, largely due to fewer healthcare staff and services, and geographical isolation. The purpose of this study is to examine the availability of General Practitioner (GP) practices in rural communities across the Mid-West of Ireland and the potential impact of practice closure on patient access.
Methods: GP clinic locations were identified in Ireland’s Mid-West, specifically Counties Limerick and Clare. Administrative subdivisions of both counties, Small Areas (SAs), were identified and their XY geographic centre coordinates recorded. SAs were indexed into six levels of rurality (1-cities, 2-satellite urban towns, 3-independent urban towns, 4-rural areas with high urban influence, 5-rural areas with moderate urban influence, 6-highly rural/remote areas). The direct linear distance from the centre of each SA to its respective closest GP clinic was calculated. Simulated 'closing' of each GP clinic was assessed programmatically by removing practices from the overall dataset and calculating the new direct linear distance from each SA to the next closest GP clinic.
Results: The majority of the SAs in Co. Clare (63%) and Co. Limerick (66%) are classified as rural (urban/rural index ≥4), with the exception of Limerick City, where all SAs were defined as urban. Rural SAs have longer travel distances to GP clinics than their urban counterparts, and these distances are greater the more rural a population is. Simulated closure of GP clinics revealed increasing travel distances to the next closest clinic with increasing level of rurality in a stepwise fashion (<i>r</i><sup>2</sup>=0.31).
Conclusion: Rural community dwellers across the Mid-West of Ireland face longer travel distances to GP clinics than their urban counterparts. Thus rural communities will be, on average, more adversely affected should their local GP clinic close. While these findings are unsurprising, our methodology calculates a discrete number that can be used to rank vulnerability of local communities. Rural areas are particularly vulnerable to GP clinic closure, and maintaining a solid foundation of primary care in these areas will require careful service and workforce planning.
Keywords: healthcare access, health equity, rural and remote, primary care, general practice, healthcare informatics