Minister wants local doctors to take on some roles from hospitals, writes Elaine Loughlin.
GPs are set to receive grants to buy X-ray machines and other equipment to allow for the roll-out of services currently only available in hospitals.
Health Minister Simon Harris wants local doctors to carry out a range of tests and procedures currently only available in hospitals and will be pushing to have this included in the new GP contract due to be negotiated next year.
Speaking to the Irish Examiner, Mr Harris said patients currently have to attend an acute hospital to access services that are available in the community in most other countries.
“Access to diagnostics is a huge one so the very fact that you have to go to an acute hospital to have an X-ray, to have an ultrasound, why should you have to go to an acute hospital to find out if you have an acute problem, when you could have access to the diagnostic tool in the community?” Mr Harris asked.
“So that’s the big one, and then even more basic things like stitches, bloods — it varies. Some GP services can do them, others can’t.
“Chronic disease management, diabetes care, these are all of the things that the State would have an interest in providing [through GPs].”
Mr Harris has already been in contact with Finance Minister Michael Noonan about providing financial incentives to purchase equipment.
“His department and my department, as part of our ongoing engagement on tax and grants matters, are exploring this in the context of the next budget,” said Mr Harris.
“If a primary care centre or a group of GPs were able to provide a piece of diagnostic equipment, then they perhaps could be grant-aided to provide that.
“It’s a commitment in the programme for government to explore that.”
Mr Harris said the facilities had been built and upgraded but the services provided have remained the same.
“We have spent years as a country, and successive governments, building all these primary care centres, and that’s really good and you need to build the infrastructure but you actually have to make sure that you can do something in the primary care centres above and beyond what we have all been used to going to the local GP,” said Mr Harris.
“There is a cost element to that because if you don’t provide the service in the community and you go to the acute hospital for the service, it costs a lot more.
“Not only does it inconvenience the patient who obviously would be delighted to be able to be treated locally, it also costs a lot more.”
Mr Harris said this will be an essential element of negotiations in the new GP contract — GPs have been operating off a contract that is 44 years old.
“The key win here from the State’s point of view and from the GPs’ point of view is to have more services provided by the GP in the community,” said Mr Harris.
“They are well able to provide it if they want to provide it, they are qualified to provide it, they do obviously have to be resourced to provide it and that’s going to be part of the negotiations.
“There has been a lot of aspirational talk about primary care in this country for decades. It’s time to actually see tangible and real benefits.”
Mr Harris said he would also be pushing for “salaried GPs” in rural areas and areas of urban deprivation where it would “never be financially viable” to set up practice.
State-paid salaried GP posts will be included in negotiations as Mr Harris said there are always going to be parts of this country where it may not be worthwhile to establish a GP practice, but where a GP is needed.
He pointed out that many parts of Ireland have increasing numbers of older people who are dispersed over wide areas but still need a GP service.
Likewise, GP services in inner city areas also could be provided through the salaried scheme.
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