June 22, 2007

Asylum seekers are more likely to be diagnosed with psychiatric illness
Irish Medical Times: Fri 22nd June 2007

Asylum seekers are five times more likely to be diagnosed with psychiatric illness in general practice than Irish citizens, a new study has found.

They have a significantly higher chance of being diagnosed with anxiety and are prescribed more antibiotics and psychiatric medications than their Irish counterparts, according to the retrospective one-year study on patient records in two Galway City GP practices.

The study compared Irish asylum seekers to Irish GMS patients in terms of their utilisation of GP services, morbidity patterns and consultation outcomes. Data was collected on 171 asylum seekers and 342 Irish citizens for the study, which was conducted by the Department of General Practice in NUI Galway.

As in previous Irish studies of general practice usage, asylum seekers were found to attend the GP more frequently than their Irish counterparts. The mean number of visits per asylum seeker per year was 5.16 whereas the mean for Irish Citizens was 2.31this study found.

Because Irish GPs cannot refer directly to public psychological services, but instead must refer to the psychiatric services, which is not always appropriate for the patient, practices may “cherry pick” patients to the exclusion of asylum seekers as they do not have the required support, said the study.

Due to the implications of higher and more complex consultation rates of asylum seekers, increased resources should be made available to practices that provide this care, one of the study authors Prof Andrew Murphy, Department of General Practice NUI Galway, told IMN.

IMO GP leader Dr Martin Daly said the IMO supported the policy that asylum seekers should receive the highest quality of medical care available. He said GPs were often the main medical care provider to this “very vulnerable group” and said the HSE and the Department of Health were not taking the needs of these patients seriously enough.