€500 million paid out to GP practices


Payments to the 2,200 doctors operating general medical services scheme increased by €25 million, writes MARTIN WALL

THE STATE paid out more than €500 million in fees and grants to GPs operating the general medical services scheme last year, new official figures show.

A Health Service Executive (HSE) report reveals that the total payments to the 2,200 doctors operating the scheme increased by about €25 million despite two separate cuts in fees which were introduced by the Government last year.

However, during the same period the number of people with medical cards increased significantly.

At the beginning of January 2010 there were in excess of 126,000 more people covered by the medical card scheme than there were 12 months previously. During 2009, the number of people with GP visit cards increased by more than 12,700.

The report reveals that the highest amount last year was paid to the practice of Dr Catherine Coleman in Dublin, which received a total of more than €767,000.

Last year, Dr Coleman’s practice received in excess of €1 million in fees and grants from the HSE.

Most of the fees paid out under the scheme relate to services provided to patients with medical cards. Payments for services such as immunisations are also included.

The payments do not represent income for the doctors concerned as practice expenses and overheads have to be taken into account. In some cases, a number of doctors in a practice must be paid from the amounts received in fees from the HSE.

Last year, the Government made savings of about €16 million when it introduced a new flat fee for doctors treating patients over the age of 70 with medical cards. It saved a further €20 million by ending the automatic entitlement for the over-70s to a medical card.

Last night, the chairman of the Irish Medical Organisation’s general practitioner committee, Dr Ronan Boland, said that the number of patients covered by the medical card scheme had increased significantly over the past year or so.

He also said the 8 per cent cut in fees to GPs put in place by the Government last year only took effect from the beginning of July 2009 and was not fully reflected in the payments for the year.

Dr Boland said general practices were dealing with increasing numbers of patients with ever-dwindling resources.

The HSE report found that there were 292 GPs who received more than €370,000 in fees and grants last year compared with 252 doctors in the previous year.

The HSE report also revealed that the dental practice of Dr Shane Cadden in Co Mayo received more than €577,000 in 2009.

The dental practice of Dr Jerome Kiely in Tipperary received more than €406,000 last year, according to the report.