New deal for rural GPs a ‘first step’

Rural practice allowance to increase from €16,216 to €20,000

A €10 million deal on rural GP allowances was welcome, but would not be enough to attract doctors to rural Ireland, doctors' representatives have warned.

Both the Irish Medical Organisation (IMO) and National Association of General Practitioners (NAGP) said the deal with the Department of Health, which will see the number of GPs qualifying for rural allowances double to 332, was a step in the right direction.

The announcement of the deal came days before the general election in which two GPs from the No Doctor No Village campaign are running as Independents.

A spokeswoman for the IMO said while the deal might help to keep GPs in rural Ireland, “alone” it was not enough to attract new GPs to set up practice. “What is required is a new GP contract to deal with issues of chronic-care management; realistic and viable resources to allow GPs to deliver a modern service to patients.”

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Grants

As part of the new package the rural practice allowance will increase from €16,216 to €20,000 and automatically qualify doctors for additional benefits such as grants to hire staff.

Chris Goodey, chief executive of the NAGP, said the deal was a welcome "first step in rebuilding general practice" but a new GP contract was overdue.

“We know that €960 million has been taken out of general practice in the last five years. While the additional payments are an acknowledgement of the time spent by GPs on certain tasks such as suturing and catheters, these must be viewed within the prism of a new fit-for-purpose GP contract.”

Candidates

Dr Michael Harty, who is running as a candidate in the Clare constituency under the "No Doctor No Village", said the deal was a small but important step towards general practice resources in rural Ireland.

“This agreement is a vindication of our campaign. It’s energised us to keep going,” he said.

“We started out our campaign about the retention of rural GP services but it’s widened much more now. There’s a huge anger and frustration with how rural Ireland has been stripped of so many services.”

Fellow campaign candidate Dr Jerry Cowley, who is running in the same constituency of Taoiseach Enda Kenny in Co Mayo, said he was fighting to change the health system.

“It’s about changing the system and rebalancing the budget. There is plenty of money there for things if it’s used properly,” he said.

Dr Cowley,who became an Independent candidate in 2002, said “seriously ill” people were on long waiting lists to see consultants and get procedures done, and he wanted to see the health budget distributed back into communities.

“Everyone should have a chance of survival. Treatment should be about the disease, not the size of your wallet,” he said.

Rachel Flaherty

Rachel Flaherty

Rachel Flaherty is an Irish Times journalist