GPs call for ‘safe access zones’ for patients attending doctors

Zones needed to protect doctors and patients from protesters, says Irish council for GPs

GPs called on Minister for Health Simon Harris to provide ‘safe access zones’ around doctors’ surgeries. Photograph: Thinkstock

GPs called on Minister for Health Simon Harris to provide ‘safe access zones’ around doctors’ surgeries. Photograph: Thinkstock


Members of the professional and training body for GPs have called for the provision of safe access zones for all patients attending their family doctor.

Members at the Irish College of General Practitioners (ICGP) annual general meeting also agreed that a report be commissioned into how the organisation dealt with issues raised by members about the abortion legislation introduced last January.

The issue has been highly divisive for the ICGP; dozens of mostly anti-abortion doctors walked out of an extraordinary general meeting of the college held last December, in protest over procedures.

They subsequently sought a second egm, but instead the college agreed to accept motions on the issue at its agm on Saturday.

One motion re-affirmed respect for the role and views of the conscientious objector to termination of pregnancy services within GP training.

The other motion, accepted by the board of the ICGP, calling for the report, said it should include recommendations on how “pitfalls” can be avoided in any future similar situation, “eg, concerning any potential legislation for euthanasia or medically-assisted dying”.

The meeting passed a motion calling on the Minister to provide “safe access zones” for all patients attending GPs. This was necessary to protect doctors from protesters outside their surgeries, said Dr Brian Kennedy, proposing.

Dr Austin O’Kennedy, who is opposed to the provision of the abortion service in general practice, acknowledged “the battle is won” by those in favour of the service.

However, he said many doctors felt “isolated and alienated” by being disenfranchised and not allowed to speak on the issue within the ICGP. He called on the college to follow the example of journalist Nell McCafferty and “reach out” on the issue.

Dr O’Kennedy received “unbelievable abuse” from the partner of a woman who came to his surgery seeking a termination, when he explained he was a conscientious objector, he told the meeting. In rural areas, it was unclear to whom doctors like himself should refer patients, he said.

Contraception funding

Doctors at the meeting called on the ICGP to lobby the Minister for a free contraception and male sterilisation services for patients, to be provided in general practice.

Proposing the motion, Dr Aine Murphy of Cork said that since abortion was introduced GPs were now seeing a cohort of women who would previously have travelled for a termination.

She said it was “anachronous” for the State to fund abortion but not contraception.

The meeting also passed a motion calling on Minister for Health Simon Harris to ensure the definition of “adverse events” in the Patient Safety Bill is workable within existing resources and does not place an “impossible” administrative burden on the health system.

Members voted for greater debate internally on the relationship between the ICGP and Saudi Arabia, where the college runs a number of family medicine academies.

Multiple speakers criticised Saudi Arabia’s human rights record and the ICGP’s activities in the country. Others said they had been unaware of the depth of involvement of the college in the country.

But ICGP chief executive Fintan Foy said the college was delivering family medicine in the poorest parts of the Saudi kingdom: “The changes I’ve seen there over the last two years are unbelievable. We’re part of that change and helping to drive that change.”

Doctors also supported a call for the Government to ban car engine idling as part of measures to improve planetary health.