Social Democrats co-leader Róisín Shortall TD has strongly criticised Government inaction on the crisis in General Practice which means medical card patients are increasingly being refused access to basic GP services.
Deputy Shortall said:
“Today’s Sunday Business Post health feature clearly demonstrates that there is a very real crisis in General Practice where increasingly medical card patients are being refused access to a basic GP service. This has come about as a result of large numbers of graduating GPs choosing to emigrate rather than staying to work in the Irish health service and significant numbers of existing GPs approaching retirement age.
“This crisis has been looming over recent years and, due to the inaction of Government, is now coming to a head. Successive Ministers for Health have promised to prioritise general practice and primary care for funding but, in fact, they’ve done the opposite.
“As a result of FEMPI, funding for general practice has been cut by 38%, raising huge issues about the financial viability of many practices. As yet the Government has not provided any definite reassurance about the timescale for reversing these cuts and this is urgently required.
“We know that the current GP contract is completely out of date and needs replacement with a contract that recognises the key central role of GPs in providing healthcare, including chronic disease management and keeping people out of hospital by providing care in the community. Yet there is no sense of urgency about this and negotiations are dragging on interminably.
“In addition, the business model for general practice is not sustainable for young GPs where they are expected to provide their own premises. Few GPs have access to this kind of capital and it’s not surprising that they are opting to go abroad where this kind of financial outlay does not arise. If the Government had provided the network of primary care centres promised, this would not be an issue. We would never expect teachers to provide their own schools so why do we expect doctors to provide their own surgeries?
Deputy Shortall added:
“In addition, many young GPs would prefer to be salaried directly employed rather than being private contractors with all of the responsibilities and overheads involved. But in spite of a Programme for Government commitment to this, there’s been little or no action.
“We know from recent surveys that the majority of young GPs want to work as part of a multi-disciplinary primary care team, but it’s clear from the severe under-staffing of these teams that the Government is not serious about supporting this model of care. GPs, understandably, do not want to be in a position where it is almost impossible to access physiotherapy or speech and language therapy or other community services, which are essential to the care of their patients.
“Overall the main problem is that there is little confidence in the Government’s commitment to reform of the health service and that things will improve. This is the main reason for the haemorrhage of our highly trained medical staff where many are voting with their feet and emigrating to work in health systems which function properly, which are equitable and which value and respect staff.
“Sláintecare, the all-party strategy for reform of the health service provides solutions to all of these issues and the Government now needs to get on with its urgent implementation. Failure to do so will result in the health service becoming even more dysfunctional where patients are denied access to the most basic healthcare, putting even more lives at risk.”