Doctors: Cuts to GP fees exceed stated 25%

A doctors organisation still maintains cuts imposed on GPs’ fees to stabilise the State’s finances are far greater than that claimed by the Department of Health.

A department briefing paper claimed the reductions to GP fees under the Financial Emergency Measures in the Public Interest Act (FEMPI) were just under 25%.

However, the Irish Medical Organisation (IMO) disputed the department’s claim, insisting the average cut across all GP services was 38%.

The IMO said the cuts made under FEMPI at a time of austerity must be restored but without the precondition of a productivity agreement under plans for a new GP contract with the Government.

The issue yesterday dominated the start of a three-day annual conference of the IMO in Killarney, Co Kerry.

Since 2009, GPs providing services to patients who have a medical card or a doctor only visit card have suffered three cuts to fees and supports under FEMPI and reductions to fees to care for patients over 70 years.

The IMO said the cuts had “varying effects” depending on the type of practice and the location of the practice.

In rural areas, or where GPS had a high number of nursing home patients, the cuts are over 40%.

In 2014, General Medical Scheme payments topped €424.6m and cuts imposed up to then had totalled €160m, equating to a 37.7% cut.

Since then, new services for children under the age of six and diabetic patients have been introduced but the new funding does not negate the impact of the FEMPI cuts as it was for new work, not existing services.

“These cuts were made under FEMPI and have never been restored, despite the restoration of FEMPI having been agreed with all public servants,” the IMO has stated.

The IMO said the cumulative effect of the cuts means GPs are unable to take on new patients and longer wait times.

It said practices are closing down and communities are being left without a GP.

It also maintained no new practices are being established as younger GPs are emigrating to countries with health systems that support modern practices.

Incoming IMO president Peadar Gilligan said doctors want to provide the best care to patients but the system must allow them to do that.

He said the IMO’s conference theme, Valuing Doctors, was chosen to emphasise the importance of doctors having the resources they need.

“Ireland has very significant expectations of its doctors in terms of knowledge, skills, expertise, compassion and caring,” said Dr Gilligan. “Doctors reasonably expect that their contracts will reflect this level of expectation.”

Co-leader of the Social Democrats Róisín Shortall said a reversal of FEMPI cuts was key to ensuring decent public access to GP services.

She called on the Government to wake up to the crisis in general practice and set out a timetable to reverse austerity cuts harming GP practices and patients.

“The dispute over whether the overall cut in GP fees under FEMPI amounted to 25% or 38% needs to be swiftly resolved,” she said.

She claimed there was little confidence in the Government’s commitment to reform of the health service.

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