The National Association of General Practitioners has expressed concern about the impact of cuts to the allowances GPs receive for treating medical card holders. The association’s AGM at the weekend heard HSE payments to family doctors under the General Medical Services scheme have been cut by as much as 33% in recent years.
NAGP chief executive Chris Goodey said GPs were facing a very challenging time as a result of dramatic cuts imposed on their practices. Mr Goodey claimed funding received for treating patients with medical cards were used by doctors to pay for the surgery, heat, light, rent equipment, staff and services. “Unless funding to general practice is significantly increased in the short term, 150 general practices across every county in the country face the real risk of imminent closure.”
He called on the Government to put greater resources in place to support family doctors.
Mr Goodey claimed there is a need for 500 new GPs in order to begin the process of bringing the number of family doctors into line with the OECD average.
Ireland had half as many GPs per head of population as the average across all OECD countries and just a quarter of the pro rata number of GPs in Australia.
“It is clear that, unless the Government undertakes significant reforms to make general practice attractive for new entrants to the profession, the current manpower crisis will lead to a collapse in the system of primary care,” he said.
NAGP chairman Dr Andy Jordan said the association believed the recent cutbacks to the GMS were intrinsically linked to the Government’s plans to provide free GP visits to children aged five or under.
Dr Jordan accused the Government of attempting to create a smokescreen by using the announcement of the free GP care for young children to deflect from significant cuts in the health budget and the plan to take medical cards “from the most vulnerable in society”.
Another NAGP representative, Dr Stephen Murphy, criticised the “immorality” of how the free GP care for under-fives was being funded by taking cards away from the elderly, disadvantaged and people with serious medical problems.
Meanwhile, the Irish College of General Practitioners criticised the Government for pushing ahead with its plans towards universal free healthcare without proper consultation with GPs.
ICGP chairperson Dr Mary Sheehan said doctors were witnessing the hardship caused by the removal of medical cards in their surgeries on a daily basis.