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Sunday 21 July 2019

GPs protest outside government over crisis in sector

The group say that years of successive cuts in Government funding for general practice has created an ‘inefficient, unstructured health system’.

GPs hold up their stethoscopes during a protest (Niall Carson/PA)
GPs hold up their stethoscopes during a protest (Niall Carson/PA)

By Aoife Moore, Press Association

Hundreds of GPs have protested outside the Dail to tell the government “enough is enough” on lack of funding and contract negotiations.

Organised by National Association of GPs Ireland (NAGPI), the crowds turned out to protest for a reversal of the Financial Emergency Measures in the Public Interest (FEMPI) Act 2015 which they say is causing a crisis in the sector.

According to organisers, the protest is to highlight to the current Government that a complete reversal of FEMPI without preconditions is now the only option that will be accepted by general practice.

The group say that years of successive cuts in Government funding for general practice have created an “inefficient, unstructured health system”, which is now collapsing.

The attitude of the government is “dishonest and negligent” according to the President of NAGPI, Maitiu O’Tuathail, and that the failure to reverse FEMPI has had a “devastating” effect on GPs.

“The morale that GPs have now, which is so low, but there is also a negligent failure to offer services to our patients because if we do not have the funding, we cannot do that,” he said.

Stethoscopes are held during a protest (Niall Carson/PA)

Dr Dermot Quinlan, a GP in Glenmire in Co Cork said GPs are working 12 hour days to ensure the safety of patients in a system that is in crisis.

“General practice is in crisis, GPs are under severe pressure and we need resources to continue to care for our patients in the community,” he said.

“We have a huge problem recruiting young GPs, a lot of them are emigrating, we have a substantial number of GPs retiring so we’re losing people at every possible stage.”

GPs say rural Ireland in particular is facing an enormous crisis in attracting doctors to the practice, as there are not enough GPs to serve the public, many are having to retire early, due to burnout.

Fianna Fail Health spokesman Stephen Donnelly took to the stage during the protest and told the crowds: “The Government was told that if investment in general practice didn’t happen, if respect was not shown to existing GPs and future GPs this would happen, then by this time we would have a very serious problem and here we are.”

The protest comes just one day after a second day of strike action by nurses across the country, and hours after a five hour-long health committee into the overspend of the National Children’s Hospital.

At the protest, Labour’s Alan Kelly said there needed to be some form of political accountability.

“There’s so many things going on with (Health) Minister (Simon) Harris, and obviously there’s a huge amount of pressure there.

“We’ll find out what happened with the hospital in the coming days and weeks and then we’ll make decisions around political accountability.”

During Leaders’ Questions on Wednesday, Housing Minister Eoghan Murphy said that “important engagement” between the State and the Irish Medical Organisation resumed in October over GP contracts.

“Some progress was made but there are outstanding issues.

“We need to ensure that as we benefit patients, we also provide value for money for the taxpayer.

“The State’s negotiating team is keen to bring a renewed focus to the engagement with the IMO in the coming weeks in an effort to bring matters to a conclusion,” he said.

Meanwhile, the HSE said discussions were ongoing with the Irish Nurses and Midwives Organisation around allowing major surgeries, including cancer, to proceed.

All outpatient, inpatient and day surgery appointments were cancelled for Thursday. Minor Injury Units would be closed, while routine community nursing services and health centre nurse clinics had been cancelled.

Public day centres and day hospitals for older people or people with disabilities would close.

All planned admissions, including respite and rehabilitation, to public community nursing units and specified centres for people with intellectual disability had been cancelled.

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