Doctors have branded plans to extend free GP care to under-12s as “Government electioneering” and claim it will put patients at risk.
The National Association of General Practitioners (NAGP) is to ask its 1,450 members to consider capping the number of patients they see every day for patient safety reasons.
The association decided at an emergency meeting on Friday to put the proposal forward for a vote at its national meeting next month in Clonmel, Co Tipperary.
One of the biggest budget promises was the provision of free GP care to all children under 12 from next year.
The NAGP is concerned that the Government is determined to continue with “this ill-thought-out policy” regardless of how it impacts on patient safety.
NAGP head of communications Yvonne Williams said the decision to ask GPs to cap patient numbers was not entered lightly.
“We are trying to defend our patients’ rights to receive the high quality care they deserve,” said Dr Williams. “At this point, we are simply asking members to consider this course of action so patients can continue to be seen quickly and treated safely.”
She said GPs were increasingly struggling under the strain of an ever increasing workload with a high risk of burning out. Many are working more than 60 hours a week, she said.
“The stark reality is that promising free care to an estimated 200,000 additional children will make patients less safe and will fuel the exodus of doctors from primary care,” she said.
“We deeply regret that we are forced to consider this course of action but, by asking members to cap the number of patients they see, doctors are standing up for a health service that is fair and accessible for the communities they serve.”
The NAGP warned in its pre-budget submission that half of GPs in Ireland were being forced to spend less time with their patients and, as the population aged, this would worsen.
Free GP care was introduced to under-sixes and over-70s during the summer.
Dr Williams said planning free GP care for another large population group without addressing the current crisis in general practice was a “recipe for disaster”.
Health Minister Leo Varadkar has refused to negotiate with the NAGP in contract talks but has agreed to a written request from the NAGP to meet representatives in the coming weeks.
The Irish Medical Organisation (IMO) has warned the Government it is not possible to extend free GP care to more children in the absence of a new GP contract.
“The question isn’t whether we can extend free GP care to new age groups, it’s how we save general practise as we know it,” said IMO GP committee chair Padraig McGarry.
Dr McGarry warned that the GP system is severely under-resourced after years of cuts and is under massive pressure to cope with existing demands.
He said the only reason the IMO agreed to introduce free GP visits for children under six was on the basis that a new GP contract for the medical card and doctor visit card be agreed.
The NAGP’s motion on capping patients will be one of several options put to members at its national meeting on Saturday, November 7. The meeting will be open to all GPs and GP trainees because of the nature of the crisis.
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