GPs ‘to lose parents as patients’ if they don’t sign under-sixes deal
Doctors are to be warned they will lose thousands of existing patients unless they sign a new contract agreeing to give free visits to children aged under six years.
It means that parents whose children under six currently have a medical card or GP visit card will have to find a new doctor if their existing GP refuses to sign up.
The move is set to anger GPs who currently have contracts with the Health Service Executive (HSE) to provide care to around 166,000 children in this age group who have a medical card or GP visit card.
The Department of Health confirmed last night that the new under-sixes contract, bringing another 237,000 under sixes into the free GP visit net, will overtake all other existing agreements for this age group.
GPs who resist signing will face a massive drop in State income. The move would likely cause thousands of parents to go searching for a GP who has signed the new contract to ensure their young children are treated for free.
Existing agreements, which see the GPs paid a State fee for care of the children, will no longer be valid from July and will be overtaken by the new under-sixes contract.
Parents of under-sixes whose GPs refuse to sign the new contract could face long journeys, including in areas with poor public transport, in order to find a doctor who has signed up.
Health Minister Leo Varadkar wants GPs to sign up to the contract, worth about €67m, which gives free GP visits to all under-six-year-olds as well as asthma and height and weight checks.
But opposition to the proposal escalated yesterday after the National Association of General Practitioners (NAGP), representing over 1,200 of the country’s 2,500 GPs, said it will be advising members to reject the deal.
While it is a matter for each individual GP to decide if they want to accept or reject it, NAGP chairman Dr Andy Jordan, said: “It amounts to medical apartheid. The proposal will fuel the inequalities that already exist in our health service.”
The Tallaght GP said the investment should go to those in medical need. “The asthma scheme will only be available to children between two and four. It is simply a ‘smoke and mirrors’ political stroke.”
Dr Ray Walley, head of the Irish Medical Organisation (IMO) which negotiated the deal, said it is a first step in providing more investment in GP practices which have suffered huge austerity cuts in State fees.
Many GPs at the IMO’s annual meeting in Kilkenny over the week remain undecided until they see the yet-to-be-issued fine print to the contract.
Clonmel GP Dr Kevin Kelly said he will not make up his mind until he sees the contract and warned it will mean a big rise in workload for overstretched doctors. Dr Sinead Murpy of the Galway Bay Medical Centre said doctors are already losing money.