Doctor demands ‘may stall free GP care for a decade’

Government plans to introduce free GP care for everyone in Ireland could be delayed by a decade because of doctors’ compensation and resource demands.

Doctor demands ‘may stall free GP care for a decade’

Irish Medical Organisation GP chair Ray Walley made the claim as talks continue between the union and the Department of Health over how the policy can be introduced.

Dr Walley told the website, www.irishhealth.com, that while the doctors’ group supports free GP care in theory, it is unlikely the universal healthcare system on which it is based, will be implemented for up to 10 years.

And while Health Minister Leo Varadkar has suggested the building bricks of the project — namely free GP care for the under-sixes and over-70s — could be implemented as soon as next year before it is rolled out fully at a later date, Dr Walley said the deadline may be over-ambitious.

This was because the money was not there to compensate GPs for loss of private practice income, he said.

“I think it may take 10 years for universal healthcare to be fully implemented,” said Dr Walley.

“Universal GP care, whereby financial barriers to see the GP would be removed, could perhaps be introduced more quickly, but universal primary care, incorporating community services other than general practice, for example physiotherapy, could take five to ten years to introduce properly.

“All of this needs appropriate resourcing.”

While Ireland’s current GP system budget accounts for 2.3% of total health spend, Dr Walley has claimed the introduction of free GP care and universal healthcare would need this rate to increase five-fold to 10%.

In early spring, then health minister James Reilly put forward plans to revolutionise the health service by introducing a free GP care system for the entire country.

The plan, which led to significant difficulties between the Department of Finance and the Department of Health over the alleged cost of the project, was due to be implemented in full by 2019.

Mr Varadkar distanced himself from the initiative earlier this month, suggesting a small fee may still apply for GP visits.

However, despite also saying the 2019 deadline may be unrealistic due to the depth of change involved, Mr Varadkar said that free GP care for under-sixes and over-70s may be in place as soon as next year, a deadline doctors insist may be met.

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