Doctors warn of crisis facing general practice

Irish patients could soon face longer waiting lists for family doctors

Doctors warn of crisis facing general practice

Image: Alex Proimos via Wikimedia.org, Creative Commons 2.0

The National Association of General Practitioners has warned that Irish patients could soon face long waiting lists to see a family doctor.

The association’s AGM has heard that General Practice is in crisis.

Doctors have warned that young, highly trained doctors are emigrating due to emergency cuts introduced during the financial crash.

A ballot last week showed 84% of NAGP members would not sign a new GP contract with the Government.

NAGP President Dr Emmett Kieran says the ‘brain drain’ of talented young doctors is a big problem for the health service:

“As things stand at the moment we have massive immigration,” he said.

“That is based on a 45-year-old contract which is outdated and it is also based on the Financial Emergency Measures in the Public Interest (FEMPI) measures that cut 38% of funding from General Practice.

“It is actually not viable as a qualifying GP to set up a practice or indeed take over a practice as there are huge financial constraints.”

Talks on a new GP contract and the restoration of the FEMPI cuts are due to get underway with the Government in the coming weeks.

The Health Minister Simon Harris believes it should be possible to have a new contract agreed within months.

Speaking at the NAGP meeting, the Minister of State for mental health and older people, Jim Daly said Minister Harris had been in negotiations with Cabinet on the issue in recent weeks.

“There has been agreement that FEMPI will be reversed but that it will be linked to service improvements across General Practice which will benefit patients across all communities,” he said.

“Multi annual budgeting will commence in 2019.”

The NAGP however, has previously warned that the reversal of FEMPI cuts cannot be conditional.

In a statement the association warned that it “remains resolute that FEMPI needs to be reversed immediately and should not be linked to additional work.”

“GPs are already at maximum capacity, with burnout being a major issue amongst our members,” it said.

“Our young GPs are voting with their feet and emigrating while our more seasoned GPs are retiring earlier than planned.

It said “conditions linked to the reversal of FEMPI cuts [are] not for negotiation” adding “we need to restore functionality to General Practice.”

NAGP chairman Andy Jordan said the Government needs to re-think its spending on health – warning that investment in primary care is the best way to tackle hospital overcrowding.

“We are putting all our money into the hospitals,” he said. “That is the most expensive care.”

“It costs €1,000 a day to have a patient in hospital; roughly €1,000 a week to have someone in a nursing home; you can have a very god homecare package for a couple of hundred Euros a week.

“We are just investing in the most expensive part of medicine; we have disregarded primary care and General practice.”

He said a range of other countries have transformed their health systems by investing in GPs.