Free GP care for all by 2022 unrealistic, says IMO president

IMO annual conference hears plan to operate on patients within 12 weeks ‘impractical’

The identity of doctors under investigation by the council should remain protected until such time as an adverse finding is made against them, according to a motion passed at the conference. Photograph: Thinkstock

The identity of doctors under investigation by the council should remain protected until such time as an adverse finding is made against them, according to a motion passed at the conference. Photograph: Thinkstock

 

A plan to provide free GP care for all within five years is unrealistic and probably unachievable with current resources, the president of the Irish Medical Organisation has told its annual conference.

Outgoing president Dr John Duddy described another proposal made by the Oireachtas Committee on the Future of Healthcare, to legally oblige hospitals to operate on patients within 12 weeks, as impractical.

“Even if all operating theatres were opened and fully staffed next week, it could not happen. There simply isn’t the physical space to cater for all the patients who require surgery in this time frame,” he told the conference in Galway.

The identity of doctors under investigation by the council should remain protected until such time as an adverse finding is made against them, according to a motion passed at the conference.

Delegates unanimously supported a call for fitness-to-practise hearings, which are mostly held in public at present, to be held in camera in future.

Guilty until proven innocent

North Dublin GP Ray Walley said the current system of disciplinary hearings effectively treats doctors as guilty until proven innocent, in contravention of natural justice. Hostile media coverage of fitness-to-practise hearings were a factor in greater medical emigration and may be contributing to doctor suicides.

Dr Cathal O Suilleabhain described the experience of received notice of a complaint from the council as “incredibly stressful, even when you know the complaint is rubbish”. The pendulum had swung away from protecting doctors in recent years and change was needed.

Delegates also supported a motion calling for the creation of an oversight committee for the Medical Council. The council is funded by annual fees of registered doctors.

Proposing the motion, Dr Matthew Sadlier questioned whether the council needed to have its offices in Dublin city centre and whether it was being run cost effectively. It was unfair that doctors were the only group in society funding an organisation over which they had no control, he said.

Another motion called on Government departments to establish a clear definition of a child when receiving treatment in the health system.

A patient aged under 16 is classified as a child for medical treatment while the age threshold in mental health services is 18 years, the conference heard.

Under the Mental Health Act, patients are treated as children until the age of 18 – unless they are married, Dr Sadlier pointed out.

Patients

Mental health teams were often “vilified” for admitting “children” to units when the vast majority of patients involved were aged over 16 years and would be treated as adults in other parts of the health system, he said.

Every year, an estimated 600 babies are born with foetal alcohol spectrum (FAS) disorders, a specialist in public health medicine told delegates.

Dr Mary T O’Mahony said Ireland was in the top five internationally for alcohol use during pregnancy, and consequent cases of FAS. Four out of five Irish women report consuming some alcohol during their first pregnancy.

The condition can cause permanent brain injury leading to lifelong physical, mental and behavioural difficulties, she warned.