GPs criticise ‘nationalisation’ of family doctor services

NAGP conference hears calls to resist extension of free GP care to under-12s

Family doctors have criticised the Government for seeking to ‘nationalise’ general practice with plans to extend free GP care to all children. Photograph: Thinkstock

Family doctors have attacked the Government for seeking to “nationalise” general practice by planning to extend free GP care to all children.

Speakers at the National Association of GPs conference called for a campaign of resistance to plans for a progressive extension of GP medical cards to all children.

The Government intends to extend the scheme to children aged under 12 years later this year and to all children shortly after.

Limerick GP Charlie Gavin said he signed the contract out of fear his practice would not continue after receiving a letter from the Government saying it was going to “nationalise” his practice.


However, the proposed under-12s scheme was different because it did not threaten his existence and he could live without it, Dr Gavin said.

Delegates suggested various ways to resist the extension of free GP care to older children. Dublin GP Enda Ryan said the union needed a strategy of resistance to include the mass closing of patient lists.

Outgoing NAGP president Dr Conor McGee said doctors were being nationalised so the Government could gain votes. The people making these decisions about free GP care hadn’t thought through the consequences.

Dr Ben Parameter said doctors could resign their places in out of hours coops and advise patients to seek help in hospital emergency departments.

NAGP chief executive Chris Goodey said resistance to the introduction of free GP care for under-12s was largely futile and the important thing was to get the appropriate resources to manage the scheme.

The meeting agreed to examine a strategy for action in the event the under-12 scheme is agreed prior to the introduction of a new GP contract.

Mr Goodey said it was frustrating the NAGP was still ostracised from negotiations on the new GP contract – the negotiating licence is held by the Irish Medical Organisation – but relations with the Department of Health were beginning to thaw.

He said he was optimistic that the association would take its rightful place at the negotiating table after the election.

The conference narrowly rejected a call for GPs to withdraw from out of hours services if the Department seeks to introduce free care for under-12s without negotiating with the NAGP.

“At what stage are we going to say no, and tell them to stop forcing their agenda on us,” said Mr Parameter, proposing the motion, who acknowledged it was a high-risk, controversial strategy.

The conference rejected a call for a doubling of the number of GP trainees after delegates said most of those trained would emigrate.

Doctors also called for their surgeries to be made exempt from commercial rates “similar to the HSE”.

Paul Cullen

Paul Cullen

Paul Cullen is a former heath editor of The Irish Times.