Saturday 21 April 2018

GP hotline service just what the doctor ordered

Terence Cosgrave

A controversial new telephone advice line manned by qualified doctors is set to provide an alternative to the high cost of visiting a doctor.

Last week a report by the National Consumer Agency revealed that the cost of visiting a GP in some parts of south Dublin is twice what it is in some other parts of the country. And the agency may now make a formal request to the Government to introduce a price order requiring doctors to display their prices.

But some families will be able to avoid the cost completely by availing of the GP telephone service.

The new service -- which will be based in the UK -- will be available around the clock, seven days a week, and will provide a qualified doctor to answer patients' queries. In a pilot test conducted by HSF Health Plan, the telephone service eliminated the need for a GP visit in 80 per cent of the cases.

According to Roy Smith of HSF Health Plan, that still means that 20 per cent of people who use the service may still need medical attention and to see a doctor or visit an A&E department.

"Contacting your GP for medical advice, reassurance and guidance, especially outside normal surgery hours or during the working day can often prove difficult. Our new GP advice line can provide an invaluable information and advice service, which might prevent an unnecessary trip to a GP," he said, but stressed that it was not an emergency service and could not be used for pregnancy advice.

Over 100,000 people in Ireland use the HSF Health Plan, paying €9.50 a month, which provides cash-back for dealing with medical, dental and optical bills.

In south Dublin, a visit to a GP can now cost up to €70, but a survey revealed last week that the cost varies from county to county. In Waterford, the cost is €50 to €55, in the Drogheda/Dundalk area it ranges from €40 to €50 while in Kerry the cost can be as high as €50 but as low as €35.

Some patients have complained that the excessive costs of GP visits are exacerbated by doctors charging on the double for seeing two children at the same time with the same complaint.

And it has been common knowledge that fee-paying patients attend GP surgeries at a far lower rate than those who receive the service free on their medical card.

At the recent Irish College of General Practitioners AGM the new president, Dr Brendan Day, said that less and less fee-paying patients were attending GP surgeries because of the recession. He also noted that patients who didn't have medical cards were less able to comply with their medication regimes because of the cost involved.

Mr Smith confirmed that, under the terms of the HSF Health Plan, if patients needed a prescription they would still have to visit their regular doctor, and despite the fact that they might have already been diagnosed, Irish doctors would still be likely to charge the full visitation fee -- despite only being required to write a prescription. Asked if there would be a communication problem between Irish patients and UK doctors, Mr Smith said in his regular visits to Irish hospitals he noted that there were a lot of doctors from outside Ireland -- including many from India, Pakistan and Africa -- and communication in that context didn't seem to be a problem.

All the doctors who are participating in this scheme have been approved by the Irish Medical Council, he told the Sunday Independent.

Sunday Independent

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