Doctors to cut rural house visits after fees slashed
Patients in rural areas will suffer a drastic reduction in house visits by GPs in the evenings and at night because of cuts in fees.
Angry GPs warned it is not worth their while driving up to 40 miles to see a medical card patient for a fee of just €45.
The out-of-hours payment for house calls was cut from €93, along with a range of other fees, to save €48m for the Health Service Executive (HSE) this year.
But it will mean many rural patients, who feel ill enough to call out a doctor, will have to go to hospital by car or ambulance.
Nursing home patients are also to receive fewer visits from GPs as a result of the fee cuts, the annual meeting of the Irish Medical Organisation (IMO) in Killarney was told. This scaling back of the service by GPs, who have co-operative arrangements to cover evenings and nights, is bad news for Health Minister James Reilly.
He has promised free GP care for everyone by 2016. But in Holland, this scheme has left GPs earning just €40 an hour, managing only 10-minute consultations for patients.
Dr Ken Egan, a GP in Ballindine, Co Mayo, told the gathering of medics: "You won't get house calls in America or Australia. Part of Irish general practice was the house call.
"It is not just a money issue, it is a good practice issue. If I get a call at 9pm to go to a house 20 miles away, I have to call an ambulance. This will flood the ambulance service and A&E."
Dr Martin Daly, a GP in Galway, said this kind of cut "spells the destruction of practice in some rural areas".
"We already have recruitment problems in rural areas," he said. There is no way a normal-thinking GP would set up in rural general practice. It is small-minded and counter to everything the HSE says it believes in."
Other doctors questioned the financial wisdom of the health service in saving around €50 in a fee in contrast to the expensive cost of calling out an ambulance.
Meanwhile, Dr Ronan Boland, the new president of the IMO, said in his address that doctors should not be spared their fair share of cuts.
He added: "The promise of free GP care for all has taken on a life of its own. Let there be some honesty in the public discourse.
"There is no such thing as free care. Someone has to pay for it, either at the point of delivery, through direct taxation or through insurance or a combination."