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July 28, 2014

North East GPs call for end to fee cuts

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Hawkins House, Dublin

By Dara Gantly. More than 60 GPs from across the North East have urged the Minister for Health not to impose any further cuts to GMS payments and related schemes.

In a written submission to the Department — seen by Irish Medical Times — the GPs said further reductions would cost the taxpayer more that the cost of maintaining the current fee structure, because the resulting reduction in services available in the community would cause an increase in attendances in an already-overburdened hospital system.

Additional cuts would also result in “significant worsening in patient care” and increased unemployment of practice staff, the doctors warned.

Signed by 61 GPs from five counties in just 24 hours, the document was put together by Drs Helen O’Neill and Ruairi Hanley and was submitted as part of the latest consultation process under the Financial Emergency Measures in the Public Interest (FEMPI) Act 2009.

Over the past three years, the GPs indicated that there had been a 25 per cent reduction in fees paid to GPs, including reductions in GMS payments, fees for the provision of nursing home care and other schemes, and the abolition of distance codes.

The co-op in the region, NEDoc, has also had its funding slashed by 65 per cent over the past two years. “In face of the considerable challenges this has imposed, GPs to date have struggled hard to continue to provide a consistently excellent service,” the document states.

Further fee cuts would more than likely spell the end of many of the pro bono services currently provided by GPs, such as warfarin management, phlebotomy, chronic disease management, nurse-led dressing clinics, and immunisation services.

“It is likely that many colleagues will also reconsider their involvement with Primary Care Teams and the Primary Care Strategy as their time and financial resources become further stretched,” the doctors predicted.

While welcoming moves to open up the GMS to all fully qualified GPs, they warned that additional cuts in GMS fees would make opening up new practices in many areas “financially unviable and unappealing”.

The Minister for Health is required to review regulations made under the FEMPI Act that reduced certain payments payable to health professionals. On foot of the reviews, the Minister may decide to make no changes in payments, to impose further reductions or to increase payments.

The professionals concerned in this review are GPs who hold contracts with the HSE in respect of services which they render to or on behalf of the HSE under the GMS Scheme, the Health (Amendment) Act 1996, the Maternity and Infant Care Scheme, the Heartwatch Programme and certain national immunisation programmes, including the Primary Childhood Immunisation Programme.

The Minister has determined that the consultation process shall be completed by December 20 next.

Submissions can be sent up until 5.30pm on Monday, December 5, by email to the Department of Health at FEMPI2011@health.gov.ie or by post to: FEMPI Review, Room 1111, Department of Health, Hawkins House, Dublin 2.

dara.gantly@imt.ie