Patient safety at risk in cuts, GPs told at Dail protest
Cathy Brogan is one of three GPs in one of the highest earning medical card practices in the country but her income has plummeted so much she is thinking of leaving for Canada in the next two years.
The Rathkeale, Limerick, family doctor was among around 200 GPs who demonstrated in an unprecedented protest outside the Dail yesterday to highlight the financial crisis facing so many GP surgeries.
"We have around 3,000 medical card patients and hardly any private patient income. By the time we pay our overheads and staff wages that's about it," said the mother of three.
"I am qualified for 16 years and came back to the place I grew up to send my children to school here and look after my parents. Now they are getting older and I may have to emigrate."
The demonstration was organised by the National Association of General Practitioners which has grown in strength in the last year.
Cuts of around 40pc to the fees GPs receive for treating medical card holders means a growing number are in financial crisis.
Greystones, Co Wicklow, GP Dr Ciara Kelly told the gathering that patient safety is being compromised as doctors impose waiting lists because of the cuts.
"We cannot provide a service on fresh air," she said.
Dr Conor McGree, a GP in Scariff, Co Clare, said 30pc of family doctors are due to retire in the next five years but many will not be able to afford to do so.
Talks are to start next month with the doctors' union the Irish Medical Organisation (IMO) on fees for free GP visits for the under-sixes and over-70s.
But many doctors fear they will be plunged further into the red.
Responding to the protest, Health Minister Leo Varadkar said he acknowledged GPs were under pressure with finances and workload.
"The same problems are facing everyone in the health service. Nevertheless, more GPs are taking up contracts with the HSE.
"Latest figures show there were 2,416 GPs contracted to the HSE in April 2014 compared to 2,258 at the end of 2010."
He said payments to GPs under the GMS contract have risen to €447m in 2013, compared to €438m in 2011. He encouraged them to seize the "opportunity presented by the new contract negotiations".