GPs threaten to cut services

Wed, Jan 9, 2013, 00:00

GPs are threatening to stop delivering the flu vaccine and to withdraw from cervical cancer screening programmes unless the Government rows back on its plans to impose a further cut in their professional fees.

The introduction of a waiting list system for appointments and the withdrawal of GP services in some areas are also on the cards if doctors are hit with a third reduction in fees in three years, the Irish Medical Organisation (IMO) will tell the Department of Health today.

Some €70 million in cuts to fees for GPs and pharmacists were announced by Minister for Public Expenditure Brendan Howlin in last month’s budget. Details of these will be announced by Minister for Health James Reilly shortly after a consultation under the Financial Emergency Measures in the Public Interest Act introduced during the financial crisis in 2009.

The IMO, which is due to make submissions on the proposals at the department today, claimed savings can be made in other ways, such as further cuts to drug costs.

‘Breaking point’

“General practice is at breaking point and the imposition of further cuts – on top of recent severe cuts in the level of financial support for GP services – threatens to destroy the fabric of the Irish general practice system,” according to the IMO submission, seen by The Irish Times.

“Decisions taken today may well herald the introduction of waiting lists for GPs for the first time in Ireland and the unavailability of GP services in certain parts of the country.”

The IMO said further cuts would also mean the end of any capacity in the system for Dr Reilly’s plans to introduce free universal GP care “in the foreseeable future”.

It said the department should have regard to the cumulative impact of earlier cuts in GP payments. GPs are no longer able to cross-subsidise medical card patients because their income from private patients is falling.

In its submission, it said GPs will consider not providing the flu vaccine if subjected to further cuts.

In a separate submission, the IMO said withdrawal from the cervical cancer screening programme is a “very real possibility”.