The Royal Hotel and Theatre hosted the latest GP meeting last Monday (March 31) to protest at the crisis being created in general practice by FEMPI cuts, and almost 70 of Mayo’s GPs attended to voice their opposition to the cuts which many say will force them out of business.
The meeting is the fourth in a series of meetings organised by general practitioners to highlight the crisis in general practice and the damage being done to patient services following meetings in Cork, Tralee, Limerick and Galway. Those meetings have attracted a total of 900 GPs so far across the country and 31 members of the Oireachtas.
Two more GP meetings will be held next week to reinforce the message to the Minister for Health that FEMPI cuts are creating a crisis for patient services for GPs – in Donegal next Monday, April 7 and in Dublin on Wednesday, April 9.
The meeting included presentations from Dr Oliver Whyte, Dr Richard Tobin and Dr Eleanor Fitzgerald on how their practices are suffering from recent cuts, and the difficulties they are having in both providing services to patients and keeping their practices in business.
Dr Ed Walsh – a tireless campaigner on this issue – told the meeting that the average income of a GP was €59,000 and he said that the HSE had a campaign to try to convince the public that GPs were ‘fat cats’. He told the meeting that the problem was not that the HSE didn’t have enough money, but that they spent it in the wrong areas.
He noted that Ireland had only half the number of GPs of the average OECD country and only 40% of the hospital consultants of the average country. “There is no single computer system in our fragmented
system so even the Minister and the top civil servants don’t know exactly what is going on,” he said.
Dr Richard Tobin told the meeting that there was no relationship between patient services and income. He noted the fact that he would have to pay rates on a surgery building but if the HSE built such a building it would not be subject to rates. He said that he had never had an approach from the HSE on how he ran his practice and predicted that: “This is a situation that is about to implode”.
Dr Eleanor Fitzgerald said that there had been no consultation on the new contract to deal with free care for the under 6’s. She said that GP representatives had simply been handed the document after a short chat, but at no time was any of the details discussed. She said the allocation of €37 million would not be enough to cover the service and that GPs would be unable to ‘stem the tide’ of patients coming in looking for the free service.
Dr Oliver Whyte told the meeting that under the new contract GPs would become bureaucrats rather than doctors. “These proposals seriously undermines a doctor’s independence. GPs will not be in a position to whistle-blow. The contract states the a GP may not say anything that would affect the HSE’s reputation,” which, he said, undermined a doctor’s ability to advocate for his or her patients. This was unacceptable to every GP, he added.
He also noted that over 1,000 GPs have emigrated and that this would be a huge cost to the system. “They will now work in places where they can do their work and get on with it”, he said and they would be a permanent loss to the health system.
The Convener of the meeting, Dr Brid O’Malley welcomed the attendance of three Mayo TD’s at the meeting – Michelle Mulherin (FG), Dara Calleary (FF) and John O’Mahoney (FG). She said it was important that they brought the message back to their parties that there was a crisis in general practice.
Deputy John O’Mahoney said that the message he got from the meeting was that the new contract was the tip of the iceberg and the real message of the meeting was that there was a crisis going on in general practice and the new contract was the straw that broke the camel’s back.
Deputy Dara Calleary said: “Railroading this contract through is as wrong as taking cards from the disabled,” and that the new contract “had disrespect for GPs at it’s heart.”
A certain level of ire was directed at the politicians who attend but chair of the meeting, Dr Brid O’Malley, said the purpose of the meeting was not to attack politicians, but to give them information. “We are here to point out the crisis in general practice because we believe that if people knew what was going on, they would be prepared to do something about it,” she said.
The next meeting is due to take place in Donegal next Monday, followed by the meeting in Dublin on Wednesday, April 9.