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Confusion as HSE claims out-of-hours GP service charging for Covid consultations has received funding

There have been reports that the KDoc service has been charging people for Covid-19 consultations.

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THE OUT-OF-HOURS GP service for Kildare and West Wicklow, KDoc, is continuing to charge people who are concerned they have Covid-19 symptoms for phone consultations despite claims from the HSE that it has received funding for such services. 

Kdoc call agents have been telling patients that there is “confusion” about the issue, but explain that “no agreement” is in place between the HSE and the out-of-hours service. 

At yesterday’s Oireachtas hearing, HSE chief executive Paul Reid said that there should not be a charge for out-of-hours Covid-19 referrals. However, patients using Kdoc are still being charged for such consultations. 

It was reported earlier this month that KDoc had been charging a number of people who were concerned they had symptoms for out-of-hours phone consultations. At the time, the HSE noted that there should be no charge. 

However, the practice continues as TheJournal.ie is aware of a number of patients who were charged the fee.

In March, the HSE reached an agreement with GP representatives to ensure people who were experiencing Covid-19 symptoms could have access to free GP Covid assessments and testing. 

This agreement was extended in June to ensure people could access referral, without charge, on Saturdays and Sundays through GP out-of-hours services, the HSE repeated in a statement today.   

It also confirmed in a statement to TheJournal.ie that KDoc has received funding to provide free Covid-19 consultations. 

“Our message to people is – if you develop symptoms of coronavirus (fever, cough, difficulty breathing, loss or change in your taste or smell), self-isolate and phone your GP or GP out-of-hours service straight away,” the HSE said. 

“The GP will assess you over the phone and can arrange a coronavirus test. Your test and GP assessment are free of charge.” 

Fianna Fáil TD James Lawless, who represents Kildare North, raised the issue of KDoc charging patients at the Oireachtas Special Committee on Covid-19 yesterday. 

He told the committee that a constituent “presented last Saturday to the only out-of-hours health service available in Kildare, which is called KDoc. Unless patients have a medical card, they have to pay a €50 consultation fee”. 

Lawless said he confirmed with Health Minister Stephen Donnelly on Saturday that the HSE’s position is that Covid-19 is free of charge. 

“No barriers should be put in front of anybody presenting for a test. The principle applies across the country, but it is particularly acute when Kildare is the only county in a third period of lockdown and appears to be the epicentre of Covid in Ireland,” Lawless said. 

Lawless said it was his understanding that “there is an operational agreement yet to be entered into or signed off on”. 

However, the HSE insists KDoc has received funding to provide free Covid-19 consultations. 

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Responding to Lawless during the Committee session, HSE CEO Paul Reid said “there should not be a charge for out-of-hours services for Covid referrals”. 

“There is a national agreement. The agreement was due to expire but it has been extended and is under discussion in terms of a further extension. It is expected that will happen,” Reid said. 

“I will ask my colleagues to get under the bonnet in regard to KDoc to find out exactly what the issue is,” he said. 

“At a national level, we have extended the agreement to all out-of-hours services and there should not be a charge. We have to close out whatever the issue is in that regard.” 

A study published by the Economic and Social Research Institute (ESRI) yesterday found that 44% of people in Ireland don’t know that calling their GP to discuss Covid-19 symptoms is free. 

Over one third of people (36%) think they could be charged for a Covid-19 test. 

KDoc has been contacted by TheJournal.ie for comment.

With reporting by Cónal Thomas

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