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July 23, 2014

CA calls for end to GP contract ‘restrictions’

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Prof Colm McCarthy: ‘listlessness’

By Gary Culliton.


GPs should be entitled to get contracts to treat public patients in the same way that they currently are free to set up to treat private patients, the Competition Authority (CA) has said.

“Fully-trained GPs should be able to set up in the area of their choosing, where they see an opportunity, where they see there are patients waiting to be treated,” said Deirdre McHugh, an economist at the CA.

At the moment, patients “don’t have a lot of choice in picking which GP practice they attend”, McHugh said. A recent ESRI study showed that the areas which suffered most from the GP shortage were the commuter belt counties. “One of the big reasons GPs did not move into those areas in response, was that they were not able to get contracts to treat public patients in those areas,” McHugh told RTÉ Radio 1’s This Week show.

The efforts of the CA over the years have run up against “political listlessness and unwillingness by politicians and ministers to take on what are very powerful vested interests”, added UCD economist Prof Colm McCarthy. “There is compelling evidence that earnings in certain professions in Ireland are way ahead of what they are in the UK. There is no justification for that. These issues have to be addressed.”

However, doctors had skills which could be used and misused, said TCD’s Prof Tom O’Dowd. “Patients are very vulnerable to the underemployed doctor who has to meet the cost of premises and equipment,” Prof O’Dowd suggested.

The programme — which also heard from Dr Ruairi Hanley and the IMO President Dr Ronan Boland — can be listened back to at http://bit.ly/lkgwRZ.

gary.culliton@imt.ie