GPs anticipate millions of extra visits under free care plan

Representative body concerned by department’s lack of ‘planning and consultation’

General practitioners have warned they face being “overwhelmed” by millions of additional patients when free visits are introduced despite Government assurances that this will not happen.

Both the GP committee of the Irish Medical Organisation (IMO) and the National Association of General Practitioners (NAGP) have criticised recent comments by the Minister of State at the Department of Health Alex White that there was "no evidence" any surge of patients would materialise.

“There is likely to be a small, modest increase. It will be nothing like the kind of massive increase that people are suggesting,” Mr White said of the planned free doctor visits after 2016.

However, Dr Ray Walley, chairman of the IMO's GP committee, said the Minister's views were not supported by research.


He said data published in the Irish Medical Journal has shown visiting numbers would increase by an estimated four million per year, a rise of 16 per cent.

“General Practice has been decimated by a series of cuts amounting to €160m, we have consistently called for proper planning, adequate resources and negotiations, until that happens there is no possibility that General Practice can deliver upon its potential and that is bad news for patients who rely upon a same day quality service,” he said.

Similarly, the NAGP said Mr White’s comments were indicative of the “lack of planning and consultation” undertaken by his department.

Chief executive Chris Goodey, focusing on free care for under-sixes, said the measure would not work and would add over a million additional visits.

“It will be a huge amount of extra work to put on struggling GP practices at a time when many are either losing money or just breaking even. The policy is an unworkable without consultation with GPs,” he said.

Mr Goodey said there was a lack of clarity over the term “free primary care” and also questioned whether or not there would be a nominal charge as has been recently suggested.

“The Minister has to reach out to general practitioners or else his plans will come to nought.”

Mr White had previously played down the notion of such a nominal charge which had been raised as a countermeasure to unnecessary visits.

He said he had simply been referring to models in some countries.

Mark Hilliard

Mark Hilliard

Mark Hilliard is a reporter with The Irish Times