HSE accused of ageism as GP is forced to retire


The Health Service Executive (HSE) has been described as "inflexible" and "ageist" for refusing to allow a Dublin GP to continue treating her medical-card patients as she has reached 70 years of age.

A number of local TDs and councillors have written to Minister for Health Mary Harney regarding Dr Patricia Comer, who has been practising from her surgery in Haddington Road, Ballsbridge for 41 years.

Despite her pleas to be allowed to continue treating more than 500 medical-card holders, she has been told she must stop in August as she will be 70.

"Almost all my GMS [general medical service] patients are elderly and I have long, long relationships with them. I have treated many of their children and grandchildren and I know their histories. They are really put out about it," she said.

Dr Comer took over the practice from her husband when he died more than 30 years ago. Her children are now grown and she said her work was her "life".

John Gormley of the Green Party and Labour's Ruairí Quinn raised the issue in the Dáil earlier this month. Mr Gormley described the HSE policy as "ageist".

Ms Harney said contracts with GPs on treating medical-card patients were agreed with the Irish Medical Organisation.

"It was agreed that a GP might hold the contract up to age 70 . . . Doctors may of course continue to practise as private practitioners following retirement from the GMS scheme," she said.

However, Dr Comer said her private patients accounted for only about 20 per cent of her workload.

She has a folder full of letters from patients written to Ruairí Quinn and local councillor Kevin Humphries about her retirement. A couple in Ringsend wrote that it was with "sincere regret that we learnt that Dr Comer was due to retire. We are really frightened at the prospect of losing her."

A woman from Irishtown wrote: "Dr Comer is more than an excellent GP. Her record of public service is second to none. The loss to us does not bear contemplating. It fills me with dread."

Mr Humphries said Dr Comer should be allowed to continue treating her current patients, adding that other GPs had been granted extensions. "Her knowledge of the local population and the relationship she has with them is invaluable. They know and trust her. She is one of the few GPs who will do housecalls for all her medical-card patients."

A spokesman for Age Action Ireland said: "No one should be forced to retire just because they reach a certain age. It seems very inflexible of the HSE . . . If she is competent to treat her private patients it is ridiculous that she should be forced to stop treating her public ones."