The agreement reached between the Department of Health and the Irish Medical Organisation clears the way for the drawing up of a new GP contract for family doctors, to include the Government's plans for free care for under-sixes.
However, there was no indication last night when talks might begin or even whether they would take place at all. The issue is likely to be discussed at today’s meeting of the Cabinet subcommittee on health, which is also expected to discuss proposals to take the heat out of the medical card controversy.
Minister of State for Primary Care Alex White yesterday welcomed the agreement with the IMO which sets out a process for engagement on publicly funded contracts involving GPs. After months of stalemate, the IMO agreed last month to enter "talks about talks" with the Department of Health. These resulted in yesterday's agreement.
This deal is separate from the settlement of litigation between the IMO and the Competition Authority, which was announced yesterday, though this agreement also helps clear the way for substantive discussions to begin again between the IMO and the department.
Mr White said the framework agreement set out a proposed process for engagement on all aspects of the General Medical Services contract with GPs “with due regard to the IMO’s role as a representative body of medical practitioners and within the context of the provisions of the primary legislation that will underpin the introduction of GP care free at the point of access . . . I believe it will pave the way for open and constructive discussions in the future regarding primary care which will lead to an enhanced GP service in communities across Ireland,” he said.
The IMO said the deal would allow it to fully represent its GP members on “all aspects” of their relationship with the department in respect of the GMS/GP contract and other publicly funded contracts. It said the Competition Authority had confirmed this.
Describing the agreements with the department and the Competition Authority as “highly significant”, the chairman of the IMO GP committee, Dr
, claimed they provided a framework and acknowledged the right of the organisation to engage on the scope, content and resources allocated to publicly funded contracts for GPs, including the fees payable.
However, the Competition Authority said the agreement emphasised that the Minister for Health must make the final decision on contract terms and conditions, including fees.