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GPs welcome scrapping of restrictions on treating medical card holders

The health minister has confirmed that Cabinet has approved the drafting of legislation to do away with the barrier between some GPs and medical card patients.

THE HEALTH MINISTER has confirmed that legislation which will lift restrictions on GPs who want to treat medical card holders is being approved “as a priority”.

The lifting of the restriction was one of the measures included in the EU/IMF bailout plan.

Under the old system, fully qualified GPs could only treat medical card holders if they had been given the go ahead by the relevant medical authority, with the granting of contracts being officially sanctioned by the HSE, and overseen by the Irish Medical Organisation.

Many GPs had to go through a process, including a series of interviews, to establish if they were going to be given permission to treat patients with medical cards. The system has led to claims of bias and unfair practices.

Dr. Ruairi Hanley, a GP and columnist with the Irish Medical Times has told TheJournal.ie that this news is being welcomed ‘up and down the country’ by his colleagues. He was one of 16 signatories of a letter published in today’s Irish Times, which described the restriction as “anti-competitive, discriminatory and blatantly unfair”.

Hanley was also involved in a report produced by the Competition Authority in 2010

He told TheJournal.ie that the barriers placed between some GPs and medical card holders has “been the biggest scandal in Irish medicine in four decades”:

It’s a shocking state of affairs that it was allowed to go unchallenged for so long.

He said that the old system meant that younger GPs couldn’t set up their own practices, instead being forced to work for more established doctors who were not bound by the restrictions.

The system, which Hanley said preserved income for the ‘big boys’ and reduced competition, meant that many younger and newly qualified GPs were being forced to emigrate.

There were some exceptions to the system of entry into the medical card system for GPs. For instance, in 2009 a number of GPs were granted entry under ‘interim provisions’.

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However these GPs were not allowed to take on patients who already held a medical card and could only accept those who were new card holders. This meant that patients were forced to stay under the care of more established GPs. This provision will be lifted under the new legislation.

Hanley told TheJournal.ie that he and many of his colleagues are delighted that the legislative process is moving forward and that GPs are “finally on a level playing pitch”.

He also said that the news is also great for patients, giving them more choice.

About the author:

Emer McLysaght

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