Hard-up GPs in their 50s - struggling to keep their practices going under - flee to Qatar
Surgeries overwhelmed by demand says IMO
GPs, who are struggling to keep their practices from going under, should start to charge medical card holders for some services - it was claimed yesterday.
Dr Ken Egan, a Ballindine GP in Co Mayo, warned it may be the only "quick cure" to the financial pressures faced by a growing number of family doctors.
He was speaking at the annual meeting of the Irish Medical Organisation (IMO) in Killarney where angry GPs vented their frustration at the failure to restore cuts in fees for medical card holders and other services such as vaccinations which were imposed during the recession.
Health Minister Simon Harris, who has already missed several timelines for negotiations with GPs covering the restoration in fees and a new contract, told the conference the talks would start "in weeks".
He was due to address an afternoon session of the conference but delayed his arrival until last night at the annual banquet, drawing criticism from busy GPs who needed to return home and had travelled to the gathering in the expectation of putting face-to-face questions to him.
Dr Egan was told by IMO GP spokesman Dr Padraig McGarry that any decision to charge a medical card patient would have to be done on an individual basis.
Collective action is against contract rules.
GPs are paid capitation and other fees to provide services free to medical card holders.
But the annual capitation fee they get per patient, regardless of the number of visits, has fallen from €352 in 2008 to €226 to 2015.
Their fee for giving the flu vaccine has fallen from €41 to €15.
He said: "We are doing things too cheaply... all we are doing is talking about it. I am fed up talking. I can't see a new contract in five years. The only way to get anything is to make people unhappy."
He told the gathering: "I don't see patients out complaining."
Liam Holmes, from Limerick, said he knew of GPs in their fifties who are uprooting and going abroad to work, even though they have families in university.
Other doctors also spoke of the flight of some established older doctors to places like Qatar.
Dr Holmes told how his practice was overwhelmed with patients on the Tuesday after St Patrick's Day to the point where he had no slots available for emergency cases.
Dr John O'Brien said family doctor practices had now reached a "tipping point".
Agreeing to take on more work in the course of talks on fees is "delusional", he warned. It will be essential that GP practices get an injection of investment without having demands to expand services attached.
Tadhg Crowley, from Kilkenny, warned the extent of pressure and lack of GPs was leading to a potential explosion where more practices will "go off the cliff".
The exodus of young GPs and the retirement of around 700 doctors in the next five to seven years is fuelling the crisis, he said.
Dr Ray Walley said the strain means more patients in Ireland will face a three-week wait for an appointment, a predicament already faced by people in the UK.
The talks are expected to be fractious with demands on GPs to provide more services in return for fee restoration.
The new President of the Irish Medical Organisation (IMO) warned at the meeting that the medical profession in Ireland is "under attack" and the role of doctors was being systematically undervalued.
This, he said, is contributing to an unprecedented shortage of doctors in key positions across the country.
Dr. Gilligan said that while Irish society had very significant expectations of those who wish to become doctors, practicing doctors were routinely dishonoured by having agreed contracts ignored, by having to tolerate different pay rates for similarly qualified doctors doing the same job and by unreasonable delays in restoring cuts imposed during the crisis compared to other groups.