21% of GPs sign up for under-six free scheme

A survey of just over 1,000 GPs commissioned by the National Association of General Practitioners found that just one in five intend signing up for the scheme before the May 27 deadline.

Fewer than one in four (23%) plan to sign up in the next three months, according to the survey that was conducted between Wednesday and Saturday last week

The association says that the number of GPs signing up falls far short of the minimum threshold of 40% set by Minister for Health Leo Varadkar.

According to the survey, two out of five doctors (39%) do not intend signing the contract before the deadline and just under one in four (23%) will not be signing long-term. Just under 30% remain unsure about singing before the deadline and 43% are unsure whether they will sign up before September. Of the unsure group, over half (52%) said they were more likely not to sign than to sign.

In particular, some three quarters (75%) feel coerced and under duress to sign the contract. The survey was issued to all GPs regardless of their membership and almost a third were neither members of the association or the Irish Medical Organisation.

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Among association members, 61% will not be signing, 10% will be signing, just over 1% have already signed, and 27% remain unsure. Of the IMO memebrs, 29% will not be signing, 34% will be signing, just over 2% have signed, and 34% remain unsure.

Among the GPs who are members of neither organisation, 42% will not be signing, 16% will be signing, almost 3% have already signed and 38% remain unsure. Association chief executive Chris Goodey said the figures clearly showed how divisive the contract was. It also emerged that, in certain regions, all GPs in the area have decided not to sign up.

South Tipperary is the latest area to join a list of regions where GPs have decided to boycott the scheme, due to be introduced in July. At a meeting of the South Tipperary GPs last week, all of the 36 doctors present said they would not sign up.

Clonmel GP and GP trainer Martin Rouse said the contract encouraged GPs to provide care to healthy children under six at the expense of other medical card patients.

“It is offering GPs twice the amount of money for treating children under six which is completely at odds with the concept of equality of care to all patients,” said Dr Rouse.

He also warned that piling on such a substantial workload on a sector already struggling to meet demand would have a considerable impact on patient care.

The Irish College of General Practitioners recently raised a number of concerns about the scheme, including the workload implications and the lack of infrastructural support. It is concerned that all patients will no longer have the same day or next-day service which has been a key feature of general practice.

“General practitioners are stretched to capacity as present and any increase, however small, would have an impact on access to general practitioners for everyone,” it said.

Dr Goodey has urged Mr Varadkar to reconsider plans to introduce the scheme.

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