Plan for 40,000 carers to get free GP card a ‘vote-buying exercise’

Harris criticised by doctors over plan after acknowledging existing capacity shortage

The Department of Health said all people in receipt of carer’s allowance were to receive a GP visit card, but the National Association of General Practitioners  said the  announcement was “a populist move to win votes”. File photograph: Getty Images

The Department of Health said all people in receipt of carer’s allowance were to receive a GP visit card, but the National Association of General Practitioners said the announcement was “a populist move to win votes”. File photograph: Getty Images

 

A pledge by Minister for Health Simon Harris to provide 40,000 carers with free visits to general practitioners is a “vote-buying exercise” that he cannot deliver on, doctors have claimed.

Under a new initiative, the Department of Health said all people in receipt of carer’s allowance were to receive a GP visit card.

The National Association of General Practitioners (NAGP) said the Minister’s announcement was “a populist move to win votes” in anticipation of an election next spring. It was a promise he could not make good on, the group said.

The Irish Medical Organisation (IMO) said the Government’s plan could not go ahead without negotiations and the provision of adequate resources for general practice in order for such patients to be cared for appropriately.

It said it was not an issue about carers who, it said, were very deserving of a whole range of supports.

The IMO said it was an issue about transforming and developing general practice “so as to deliver real change in a planned and co-ordinated manner, not just giving out GP cards as tokens to patients in a vote-buying exercise”.

The NAGP said that in recent weeks the Minister had recognised there was no additional capacity in the general practice sector, “yet makes this promise despite assurances that there would not be any extensions to the existing 40- year- old GMS contract”.

It also maintained that the decision was made by the Minister without any consultation or agreement with medical organisations.

‘Giveaway’

The chairman of the IMO’s general practitioner committee Dr Padraig McGarry said the Government was using GP services as a token “giveaway” to demonstrate good intentions rather than a potentially transformative part of the health services infrastructure.

“GP services are in crisis and it is going to be very challenging to deliver a meaningful service to what are a deserving group of patients, and we must be sure that whatever is promised to these patients is capable of being delivered,” he said.

“In light of the current under-investment and capacity problems in general practice, the Government still chooses to increase demand for services through meaningless, inadequately funded initiatives such as this, rather than deal with the growing crisis in GP services.”

Negotiating process

Dr McGarry also queried the purpose of the GP negotiating process currently under way.

“The IMO, in good faith, has been in negotiations with the Department of Health and the HSE on the delivery and implementation on a range of new services in general practice for patients, but unfortunately this kind of announcement simply undermines that process. This is no way to plan for transformation and the delivery of a service that patients deserve and that GPs can deliver if resourced.”

The NAGP criticised the planned new initiative as “disingenuous in that, it is offering a doctor visit card that does not carry with it the benefits such as medications, counselling, physiotherapy and occupational therapy, that this particular group need”.