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Why have GPs u-turned on support for under-5s scheme?

The NAGP initially welcomed the scheme – but has now changed its mind.

Image: Doctor via Shutterstock

GPS HAVE TAKEN a u-turn on their welcome for free GP care for under-5s, saying that the scheme was announced without any proper consultations.

Dr Andy Jordan of the National Association for General Practitioners (NAGP) said that GPs have been “placed in an impossible position” where on the one hand they have been presented with a proposal which is very positive.

However, as the proposal currently stands our members simply have not been provided with the infrastructure required to provide the level of service demanded by the new scheme. Doctors must always act in the best interests of their most vulnerable patients. It is unfortunate that this scheme for Under 5s was announced without any proper consultation or analysis of its practical implications.

The NAGP is of the opinion that the recently-announced cut backs to GMS are intrinsically linked to the cost of providing free GP visits for children aged five and under.

He said that NAGP’s members are reporting a large volume of calls to their practices from concerned medical card holders requesting reassurances, “which at this point we are simply not in a position to provide”.

Care and resources

According to Dr Jordan, there would be an increase of 1.5 million extra consultations per year in GP surgeries across the country due to the scheme, putting extra pressure on doctors.

He suggested that as this would involve a separate contract for the under-fives, some doctors might not sign if they felt they would not have enough resources.

They are now calling on the Minister for Health to explain to GPs how this scheme can be introduced without their most vulnerable patients being affected.

Dr Jordan told TheJournal.ie:

It is not in our remit to come along and oppose government policy when it is clearly stated in their Programme for Government.

But he said the NAGP “initially we thought [the government] would have set up some high-end service… with all sorts of targeted initiatives built into it”. This could have included liaising with organisations like Barnardos and community groups, he said.

Dr Jordan said that such a scheme requires tremendous funding but that it wasn’t clear if the €37 million to take care of the under-fives was for all under-fives or some of them. He questioned if it referred just to those who do not have a medical card and if this could lead to two tiers of care for under-fives.

Medical cards

Dr Jordan said the money was allocated to the scheme “against a backdrop of taking discretionary medical cards from people” and that “we are now getting into discretionary medical cards taken away from the vulnerable, poor, sick; patients dying with cancer”.

He said the scheme is “at the expense of the most vulnerable in society”.

He stated that due to cuts, the primary care strategy programme is “literally falling asunder”. Plus, GPs have seen a reduction in funding of 33 per cent, which is affecting their ability “to supply any sort of decent service to people”.

He described the scheme as a “great idea but it’s the right idea but the wrong time” and suggested it could be put on ice for two to three years for the ‘right time’.

In relation to Minister Reilly, he said that he “has a tough job and I would never get into a personal attack to anyone who carries the responsibility that he has to shoulder”.

But he said that he hopes that the Minister can sit down and talk with stakeholders on the issue.

Read: GPs claiming dead people’s medical card fees? A ‘smokescreen’ – IMO>

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