Saturday 20 January 2018

Struggling GPs warn of practice closures over cuts

Picture posed. Thinkstock
Picture posed. Thinkstock

Eilish O'Regan Health Correspondent

GROWING numbers of family doctors are warning they will have to close down their surgeries because of the impact of cuts in state fees.

A survey of 72 practices found that as many as 8pc of the GPs said they were facing the prospect of giving up their work treating medical card holders because it was not financially viable after the latest cuts in state fees for medical card holders and other services.

The survey was carried out by the National Association of General Practitioners (NAGP), which was recently re-formed and is hoping to get a negotiating licence to exclusively pursue the problems faced by family doctors.

The stark predicament facing many doctors, who have seen cuts in fees totalling €160m and had to let staff go as well as cut back services, was highlighted at the NAGP's first major meeting in Portlaoise.

It comes as a memo setting out possible options on how free GP care might be introduced here is set to go before a Cabinet sub-committee.

The options include the possibility of people paying an annual subscription fee for which they would get free GP visits. But how this would operate and how much it would cost remains vague.

Dr Patrick Crowley told the organisaton's meeting that services were at breaking point.

Around two million people are currently covered by medical cards, and they do not have to pay for GP visits or medication.

Although Health Minister James Reilly promised free GP care for all by 2016, this deadline is highly unlikely to be met. The first stage – extending it to everyone on the Long Term Illness Scheme – is more than two years behind schedule. GPs are paid by the State for medical card holders and are also entitled to fees from private patients.

Any change in their contract would require major renegotiation.

Meanwhile, a GP who has been at the forefront of campaigns on infection control to combat MRSA and the abuse of antibiotics has said she is withdrawing from the HSE committee on the issue because of a lack of funding.

Dr Nuala O' Connor, a GP in Cork, is one of a number of family doctors who were selected by the Irish College of General Practitioners (ICGP), the professional and training body for GPs, to be its representative on programmes dealing with a range of issues, such as the care of patients with long-term illnesses and infection control.

In her letter of withdrawal, Dr O' Connor said there was no doubt about the potential of these programmes, but they needed to be properly resourced. At a time when the foundations of the service are being cut back and workload continues to rise, GPs are not in a position to take on more of the workload for the care of patients with long term illnesses without a concrete commitment to enhance their resources, she added.

Irish Independent

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