Free GP care for children will lead to 'poor service'
THE planned extension of free GP care to young children will result in a "dismal service" if doctors end up being paid no more than the existing annual capitation fee, a doctors' organisation has warned.
The current fee is €74 per annum regardless of the number of visits, or even if you don't visit at all.
But Dr Andy Jordan, chairman of the National Association of General Practitioners, said the new scheme would see GPs earn an average of just €6 per visit in state fees, which is "not sustainable".
He was speaking at the launch of the organisation's pre-Budget submission, which calls for full negotiations to take place with doctors before any phased introduction of free GP care by the Government.
Health Minister James Reilly and junior minister Alex White have both indicated they may announce the extension of free GP care for young children in the Budget, regardless of their parents' income.
This would have to be followed by legislation and would not come into effect until next year, allowing for possible talks on fees to take place with doctors.
"Parents would bring their child to the doctor more frequently if it was free," warned Dr Jordan. "People who visit twice a year now would come for 12 visits a year.
"The only thing the GP will be losing will be time. How do you square away that? It will mean shorter consultations and quicker throughput which is not in the interests of patients.
"If people go too fast it leads to mistakes and misdiagnosis. It is already a problem for GP practices for all patients. It is either faster throughput or longer waiting times."
He said if it was to be done properly, there had to be talks. The doctors were not against any proposed measure to improve the health of the population "particularly poor people" and the "new poor", he added.
The GP body – which was reformed earlier this year and which represents about 700 family doctors – would not object if the free GP care was extended to children from well-off households, he added.
The organisation said some practices were already closing and doctors going abroad because of the impact of successive cuts in the fees they receive for treating medical card holders. Many practices could no longer provide same-day appointments for patients or do house calls and the delays would get even worse during the autumn and winter as they coped with more demands due to the cold and flu season.
The pre-Budget submission, handed into the Department of Finance yesterday, calls for the most recent cuts in fees to be reversed.