HEALTH authorities have been accused of being “completely out of touch” with the realities faced by family doctors by the Limerick representative of the IMO, Dr Mary Gray.
Doctors have launched a campaign against the government’s proposals for free GP care for the under-sixes - and this has broadened into a wider debate on how general practice is funded.
Dr Gray, whose practice is in Corbally, cited the example of ingrown toenails to illustrate how medical card holders could be easily treated by their GP - and a fortune saved in the wider health service - if it was economical for them to do so.
“On the medical card, a GP earns €24 (for an ingrown toenail) but the equipment, the dressings pack and the suture material costs €40. If you send the patient to hospital as an alternative, they go through outpatients and into theatre and the whole process cost about €800,” said Dr Gray.
“It’s an insult in a way, showing you don’t know what is going on in general practice if you think €24 will provide that service. What it really says is don’t do ingrown toenails in general practice. That’s the degree of ignorance; it is really profound. GPs can do so much more for so much less money and take an awful lot of work and pressure off the hospitals.”
Around 250 GPs gathered for a meeting at the Strand Hotel last Monday, during which politicians from the region were left in no doubt about doctors’ frustrations.
The government has said it will consult with GP representatives on the contract but cannot negotiate on fees. The IMO is going to the High Court next month in a bid to force the government and the HSE to the negotiating table ,with Dr Gray accusing them of “misinterpreting competition law as an excuse” to avoid real engagement.
Fianna Fail’s Deputy Niall Collins, who attended the meeting at the Strand, said doctors participating in the GMS and other state schemes had suffered severe funding cuts and many had been forced to lay off staff as a result.
“They are overworked and end up referring people into the hospitals, clogging up the hospitals in turn.”
The under-sixes scheme would add to doctors workload when “they don’t have capacity to operate it and it doesn’t pay them to do it”.
“You would think that in an economy which has constrained resources that the provision of free medical services should be based on medical need and not on age. It is not fair or equitable to have a healthy five-year-old with a medical card and then a seven-year-old with Down Syndrome or autism and no medical card. But that appears to be what is happening,” said Deputy Collins.