No discussion on new medical cards, say IMO


GPs have said they do not know what is required of them in the operation of the new doctor-only medical cards which are due to come into effect next month.

Dr James Reilly, president of the Irish Medical Organisation (IMO), said the Tánaiste had had no negotiations with the IMO about the new cards. He believed the new cards meant a material change in GPs' contracts, and it would be "hugely irresponsible" for the IMO to recommend that its members sign up for a new contract until there had been full discussion.

The IMO believed that in introducing legislation for the new 200,000 doctor-only cards, Minister for Health Mary Harney had materially altered GP contracts. "If there is material change to your contracts you're entitled to full negotiation before you sign up to it," he said and they had legal opinion to this effect.

"We don't know what is required of us under this legislation," Dr Reilly said in an RTÉ radio interview yesterday in advance of the IMO's annual conference in Killarney this week.

"We haven't had any discussion or negotiations. And like any other person employed or with a business contract, they have a right to know what that contractual change is before they sign up to it.

"And I don't think for fairness in natural justice we could be asked to do otherwise," he told the This Week programme. Asked if the IMO was "in a huff" because Ms Harney did not discuss the issue with the organisation, Dr Reilly said: "It's a lot more than just a huff. There are 2,000 GPs trying to deliver a service to their patients and they are being asked to change that relationship. And we don't know what that change is, and until such time as we do, it would be hugely irresponsible of us to advise them to sign up for the service."

Dr Reilly pointed out that the Tánaiste could introduce the full medical card in the morning without debate or discussion with anyone, and she should introduce the promised 30,000 full new cards.

He said that since 1997 some 200,000 medical cards had gone out of the system because of the "ridiculously low" income thresholds. He added that since the Government came back to power in 2002 another 100,000 cards were lost.

As well as the medical cards, the conference will discuss issues such as childhood obesity and a motion calling for Sports Utility Vehicles (SUVs) to carry a sticker outlying the risks to purchasers.

Dr Reilly said there was a 75 per cent increased risk of mortality for someone hit by a compact SUV rather than an ordinary car, and 150 per cent increased risk with larger SUVs.