Government talks with GPs to re-convene next week
IMO seeks time limit on talks about new services and working arrangements
The IMO has said GPs should not be treated any differently to other public servants in terms of a process for restoration of austerity cuts. Photograph: Thinkstock
Talks between the Government and the Irish Medical Organisation (IMO) are to re-convene next week. However, the doctors’ trade union wants the new process to have a time limit to see if a deal can be reached.
A deal with GPs on new services and working arrangements is key to the Government’s overall healthcare reforms which will see more care being carried out in the community rather than in hospitals.
However, the talks effectively stalled several months ago after the IMO said Government proposals were not acceptable.
The IMO said on Thursday that its core issues were; the need to restore funding to general practice to the levels in place before austerity-era cuts were applied, to support existing patient services, as well as additional money for new patient services.
“We have now been advised by the Department of Health and the HSE that they wish to put new proposals to us and we have agreed to re-engage in a process. We expect that engagement to take place next week immediately following Budget 2019 with the first meeting scheduled for October 10th .”
“The position of the IMO is that the new set of negotiations must be meaningful, address the core issues that have arisen as a direct result of Fempi ( financial emergency legislation) cuts and have adequate resources committed to any new initiatives. Given the significant roadblocks we have experienced in previous negotiations we will be insisting on this new phase being time limited to see if any agreement can be reached which will address the significant problems in general practice. “
The IMO said GPs should not be treated any differently to other public servants in terms of a process for restoration of Fempi cuts and that commitment is contained in a memorandum of understanding between it, the Department of Health and the HSE.
On Wednesday, the Minister for Health Simon Harris said he had reached agreement in recent days with the Minister for Public Expenditure on a substantial multi-annual budget for the provision of GP services. He said he hoped intensive negotiations with GPs on a new contract would get underway again very shortly.
The Minister said he envisaged the talks would be like a three-leg stool. He said one part would focus on measures to make existing practices sustainable; the second element would deal with the provision of chronic disease management in general practice and the third would address the provision of greater access to primary care.
He said on foot of his agreement with the Department of Public Expenditure the policy objectives of his department had been aligned with the available funding stream.
Separately in the Dáil, Fianna Fail deputy leader Dara Calleary highlighted warnings that Ireland would be short 1,000 GPs over the next decade and some 36 per cent are over 55 and will retire within seven years.
He said seven in 10 GPs could no longer take on new patients and in many urban areas the waiting time was up to three days to see a doctor.
In rural areas the number of GP vacancies had increased and young doctors were not taking these jobs on.
He said only 3.5 per cent of the health budget went on general practice compared to 8.5 per cent in the NHS.
Australia, which was actively targeting Irish doctors because of their training also spent much more, he added.
The harsh cuts in funding for GP services was having a huge impact but talks on restoration was being unduly delayed, Mr Calleary said.
This delay “is being met by the Minister for Health and the Government with their heads stuck in the stand”, the Mayo TD said.
Tánaiste Simon Coveney said however that the talks were ongoing and the Government was in discussions with doctors and dealing with the issue through talks on restoring public pay.
He insisted the Government’s focus has shifted to primary care, which was receiving major investment and they were invested in delivering better patient outcomes to ensure parents could afford to bring their children to their GP at an early stage and avoid greater costs later.