Grant change threatened country GPs
GPs taking over country practices after the retirement of another doctor warned they could not make a viable living following changes to a rural grant scheme.
The doctors say they were being refused a special HSE allowance that was given to the previous GP in order to boost their income and compensate for having fewer patients.
Now there are hopes of a reprieve after Health Minister Leo Varadkar insisted he was committed to restoring distance coding, reinstating the Rural Practice Allowance for GPs.
The allowance is worth €16,216 per doctor. It also entitles them to vital maximum HSE subsidies to hire staff such as a practice nurse and to pay for another doctor if they are on annual leave. The entire package could be worth around €80,000 a year.
There are currently 167 GPs getting the allowance and none of these are affected by the changes. But GPs taking over in already beleaguered areas were being told they do not qualify.
Dr Ken Egan, a GP in the village of Ballindine in Co Mayo said established rural GPs like him were not impacted - but he was seriously concerned that doctors who come after them may be turned down.
It has become a major issue at meetings organised by the National Association of General Practitioners (NAGP).
The HSE said the wider issue of supports for rural practice is under discussion in talks with the Irish Medical Organisation on a new medical card contract for GPs.
The NAGP yesterday said it welcomed reassurances it got at a public meeting of doctors last week that the Health Minister was committed to reinstating the distance coding for the allowance in a "matter of weeks".