The HSE has warned GPs not to charge hard-pressed medical card patients for blood tests.
Fianna Fáil’s health spokesman, Billy Kelleher, said he was gravely concerned at the increasing number of patients claiming to have paid their GPs for blood tests.
Mr Kelleher raised the matter with Roisín Shortall, minister of state at the Department of Health, after it was brought to his attention that a number of GPs across the country were continuing to charge medical card holders.
“While this practice is not widespread, any charging of hard-pressed patients is unacceptable,” he said.
Ms Shortall asked the HSE to write to GPs reminding them of their obligations under the general medical services (GMS) contract. The HSE is also encouraging patients who believe they have been inappropriately charged for a routine blood test to seek a refund from their doctor.
Patients can also contact the HSE, who will investigate the matter.
Ms Shortall said she understood that because of the GP/patient relationship it might be difficult for patients to make complaints.
“Where public representatives are made aware of GPs charging GMS patients in error, they may wish to notify the HSE directly.”
Ms Shortall said GPs must not seek or accept money from medical card or GP visit card holders for services covered under the GMS contract.
Doctors cannot charge medical card patients for blood tests to assist in a diagnosis or monitor a diagnosed condition.
Ms Shortall said blood tests and other services would be considered as part of the new GMS GP contract that places an increased emphasis on the management of chronic conditions.
According to the Irish Medical Organisation (IMO) there is no contractual obligation on GPs under the GMS contract to provide routine blood tests.
It said there had been a significant increase in the demand for blood tests not covered by the contract.
“In cases where GPs provide these services it is a matter for them to decide on what basis they are provided,” it said.
According to the IMO, blood tests not covered include patient-led requests for blood tests, chronic disease management, and health clinic visits.
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