GPs to urge Government to begin reversing financial cuts
GPs seek clarity on healthcare reform programme before agreeing new contract
The National Association of General Practitioners will argue GPs have been disproportionately hit by the cuts. Photograph: Andrew Matthews/PA Wire
GPs have said they want to see greater clarity about the Government’s plans for the Sláintecare reform programme before agreeing a new contract with the State.
The National Association of General Practitioners (NAGP), which is to hold its annual conference this weekend, will strongly press for the Government to move immediately to begin reversing financial cuts imposed under emergency legislation, which it claims is strangling general practice.
It will argue that GPs have been disproportionately hit by the cuts and the organisation will call for talks on reversing these measures, which Minister for Health Simon Harris first announced last autumn, to get under way at once.
NAGP chairman Dr Andrew Jordan said the cuts had placed general practice in Ireland under severe pressure. He said some GPs who had developed primary care centres under the 2001 primary care strategy had now got out of the business, while across the country practices were not accepting additional patients on to their lists.
Dr Jordan said legal constraints – GPs are independent practitioners and under competition law rules are supposed to compete with each other – meant taking industrial action in protest at the cuts was unrealistic. However, he said family doctors in some cases were taking the ultimate industrial action and shutting up shop.
Dr Jordan, who practices in Tallaght and Terenure in south Dublin, said patients who had moved out of the capital to satellite towns were increasingly saying they could get practices in their new locations to take them on.
The NAGP has been involved in consultations with the Department of Health over the last year or so on a new GP contract. However, the process has not yet moved into the controversial area of funding for a new deal.
The NAGP believes the Government has to set out its plans for primary care under the Sláintecare reforms. The Sláintecare proposals call for the introduction of a single-tier system of healthcare with heavy emphasis on investment in primary care.
However, Dr Jordan said the association wanted to see the direction of travel regarding Sláintecare and whether it was intended by the Government that all patients in general practice would be covered in future by a State scheme or whether some would be covered by insurance or some other mechanism.
He forecast patients would not accept anything that left them worse off under the new reforms than they were at present.
He said many patients over 70 had received medical cards on age grounds and also had health insurance cover. He said they used their medical cards for their GP visits and the insurance to access other treatment. He said such patients would not sign up to any new scheme that, for example, left them on waiting lists for months for procedures.
The NAGP conference comes as the organisation has faced scrutiny over recent weeks regarding its finances.
The organisation recently told members that at the end of December 2017 it was owed €174,000 in membership fees.
Dr Jordan said members renewed their subscriptions on on a rolling basis throughout the year. He said the organisation was solvent and that it would be releasing new financial accounts this weekend.
Members were told recently that the NAGP did not accept any funding from the HSE.
However, it said it had received about €80,000 over the last year in sponsorship from the pharmaceutical industry and other service providers to cover the cost of meetings and roadshows.
The NAGP has strongly backed the cross-border directive which allows Irish patients to travel abroad for treatment and be reimbursed for the cost by the HSE.
Dr Jordan said the NAGP did not receive any financial benefits arising from this scheme.
However, he said trips to France and Spain to visit hospitals offering services to Irish people under the directive had been paid for by one company which facilitates patients availing of this scheme.