Doctors say they may not operate free GP scheme

Free doctor visits for under 6s announced in Budget

INMO general secretary Liam Doran said frontline health services are under ’real strain’ due to lack of resources Photograph: Eric Luke/The Irish Times

INMO general secretary Liam Doran said frontline health services are under ’real strain’ due to lack of resources Photograph: Eric Luke/The Irish Times

Mon, Oct 21, 2013, 13:32

Doctors may not agree to operate the free scheme for children aged under six announced in last week’s budget.

The move is a key part of the Government’s promised strategy to deliver free GP care for everybody during the Coalition’s term of office.

However, the National Association of General Practitioners warned that the resources aren’t in place to handle the increase in GP visits that would result from the scheme. Consequently some GPs may not agree to operate the scheme, the association said.

“We thought in good faith they were going to announce a scheme that was likely to deliver a high-end service,” the organisation’s chairman Dr Andrew Jordan told RTÉ’s Morning Ireland.

“Unfortunately a figure of €37 million was rolled out. Of course we realised this was just an extension of the present GMS which is not a top-end service.”

This afternoon the organisation’s chief executive Chris Goodey said the scheme would lead to as many as 1.7 million extra GP visits a year. “What inevitably happens is as soon as you move from paid GP care to free GP care is the number [OF VISITS]rises four fold,” he said.

He added that larger practices might be able to hire more doctors to handle the extra visits but smaller ones couldn’t. “Individual practitioners can decide whether they can cope of not,” he said.

Mr Goodey estimated about 300 extra GPs would be needed to deliver the scheme and he said he believed the country couldn’t afford that.

He also said there had been no consultation between the Government and the doctors. “The first thing we are calling on the Government to do is to engage with those who are going to deliver the service,” he said.

Meanwhile, the Irish Nurses and Midwives Organisation has warned the health service will become “wholly inadequate” following budget cuts of €666 million.

The organisation this morning said patient care will be “severely compromised” following a sixth consecutive year of cutbacks. They also claimed the Government has refused to introduce adequate revenue raising, public health measures on tobacco products, alcohol and sugary drinks.

“The inevitable outcome of these two contradictory strategies will be a wholly inadequate, and underfunded, health service unable to cope with the demands of a population,” the INMO said in a statement.

The organisation will discuss the budget measures at a special delegate conference in Croke Park tomorrow. Their criticism comes amid mounting pressure on Minister for Health James Reilly over the extent of the health service cutbacks.

The Irish Times reported on Saturday that the level of cuts could reach €1 billion if promised but unfunded developments were to be implemented while new figures to be published later this week will show that health services recorded a financial overrun of €71.987 million to the end of August.

The INMO said the budget cuts will see a further reduction in staffing numbers of 2,000 on top of a reduction of 10,000 over the past five years. Consequently, “safe care through safe practice will not be possible as we move through 2014”.

The organisation said increased levies on tobacco, beer, and sugary drinks could bring in some €180 million a year, generating “the necessary revenue to maintain our public health service”. But it suggested that “vested interested behind these industries” were obstructing proper health planning.

It added that a 1 per cent increase on the temporarily lowered VAT rate on restaurants and hotels would raise almost €100 million.

“The health service in the frontline is now very efficient but under real strain due to lack of resources,” said INMO general secretary, Liam Doran. “It is not a ‘black hole’ and the government should not be swayed by others who, to protect their massive profits, resist any new/additional taxes or levies on their products even though they lead to cancer, obesity and anti-social behaviour.”

Mr Doran added that the INMO will seek alliances with other expert groups involved in public health and call on the Government to revise its policies in the area.

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