Life Health & Wellbeing

Thursday 22 February 2018

Greedy doctors


Illustration: Eorna Walton
Illustration: Eorna Walton

Maurice Gueret

The national media makes hay every time the HSE publishes annual 'earnings' for GPs. But Maurice Gueret has an important question. Is this fake news?

Shoot the Barrel

The annual 'shoot GPs in a barrel' event got underway last month when RTE got their Freedom of Information answer about what the HSE pays them. It was €540m last year, which averages out at €180,000 per family doctor. From this amount, they pay nurses, practice managers, locums, assistant doctors, out-of-hours agencies, rent, equipment, insurances and so on - for 1,800 surgery premises around the country. Two million people with medical or GP-visit cards get a free daytime and out-of-hours service. If anything is left over, the GP gets to declare it as personal income.

Military Spending

What RTE did not tell you on their bulletins is that about 7,000 people work in general practice. Which means the state's annual contribution to 24/7 GP care is about €77,000 per employee. RTE did not tell you that their own annual spend at Donnybrook is more than €343m. When you break this down among its 1,834 employees, it works out at €187,000 per head. If you report it as being the 'earnings' of only newsreaders, DJs and celebrity presenters at the station, it probably works out at €2m per head. I have no vested interest. I'm not on the HSE 'wealth list'. But I have an interest in fair reporting and using comparative statistics to illustrate complex truths. One might ask why a neutral country spends €340m more each year on military protection from our army than on the first-port-of-call health service of family doctors.

Buy A Brick

Recently, I bemoaned the amount of fundraising that public hospitals were doing for ordinary equipment we might expect them to have by right. Well it's not only public institutions. One family who lost a loved one in a private hospital was later contacted to see if any of them would like to 'buy a brick'. Perhaps kindly people look favourably on such requests, but human charity can have its limits. There are always bereaved families who might be more of a mind to throw a brick than donate one.

Special Deals

Shopping around for pharmacy prices is paying dividends for some readers. One lady tells me she has diverted her prescriptions to Spain and was saving an annual fortune. She had been paying almost €35 a month for blood pressure and cholesterol-lowering tablets here. Then she found out from the Family Carers Ireland group that another pharmacy group was offering a special deal to its members and associates. She took it up, and got her medicines for under a tenner. There are a lot of deals to be had out there that were never there before. If you don't ask, then you may not find about them.

Festering Wound

Doctors can get confused tongues, too. I heard recently of a patient with likely Parkinson's disease being referred to a neurologist with a 'festering gait'. What was meant was a festinating gait, where a person propels themselves with short accelerating steps, bent forward on their toes. The word festinate (implying hurry or haste) was first used by Shakespeare in King Lear. Festering, though, comes from the old English world fester, meaning an infected sore. It's related to the word fistula, which means an abnormal passage between two organs, sometimes harbouring deep infection; or between an organ and the skin. The verb fester is also used to describe something that has been progressively deteriorating over a long period of time. I once knew a chap in Dublin whose work nickname was Fester. Never summoned up the courage to ask him how he got it.

Tooth Martyr

Some years back, there was a doctor in deepest Wicklow who practiced from the Apollonia Medical Centre. I marvelled at the name, but as a heathen never knew where the title came from. Well, the Journal of Medical Humanities educated me last week. Apollonia was an elderly Greek Christian virgin who refused to tow the line in pagan Alexandria. A mobof persecutors pulled her teeth, shattered her jaw and prepared a burning pyre for her. She walked straight into it, rather than renounce her faith. The cult of Saint Apollonia grew in medieval times. Dentists claimed her as their patron saint, and pictured her holding a palm frond and a dental pincers. You pray to her for out-of-hours toothaches.

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