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Former head of NAGP says it was 'wrong' to not have access to GP contract

Leo Varadkar is expected to answer questions in the Dáil tomorrow regarding this new controversy.

Dr Maitiú Ó Tuathail (left) and Tánaiste Leo Varadkar.
Dr Maitiú Ó Tuathail (left) and Tánaiste Leo Varadkar.
Image: Rollingnews.ie/PA Images

Updated Nov 2nd 2020, 10:46 AM

THE FORMER PRESIDENT of the National Association of General Practitioners (NAGP) has said said it was “wrong” for that group of GPs not to have sight of the draft contract agreed by the government in April 2019.

Dr Maitiú Ó Tuathail released a statement last night amid the controversy sparked by a story in Village magazine regarding then-Taoiseach Leo Varadkar’s release of this information to the NAGP on the draft contract between the government and the Irish Medical Organisation (IMO).

On Saturday evening, the Tánaiste acknowledged it was not “best practice” to provide a government document to a medical organisation through informal channels, but he has rejected accusations that he broke any laws by doing so.

Varadkar’s statement said he “regrets” that he did not ensure it was provided in a more “appropriately formal manner”.

The statement said this was after the “essential details” of the contract were released publicly at the beginning of that month.  

“The provision of a copy of the Agreement to Dr Ó Tuathail, in his capacity as President of the NAGP occurred in circumstances where the legitimate objective of this action was to encourage acceptance of the Agreement amongst the General Practitioner community.

The Tánaiste accepts that the provision of the Agreement by an informal communication channel to the President of the NAGP was not best practice and he regrets that he did not ensure that it was provided in a more appropriately formal manner.

“There was however, nothing in any way unlawful about the provision of the Agreement to the President of the NAGP,” the statement added.

It’s understood that then-health minister Simon Harris was not aware that Varadkar had shared the document. 

The Irish Medical Organisation is the largest representative body for Irish doctors. But from 2013 onwards, it faced some competition from the National Association of General Practitioners – a body that aimed to represent GPs and which sought to rapidly attract new members. 

The NAGP was not a member of the Irish Congress of Trade Unions (ICTU) and was not a party to the talks on GP contracts which led to it criticising the process. 

The NAGP had been vocal about its exclusion from the talks. 

In cases such as these when a negotiation is ongoing between a union and a government department, department officials would be more likely to keep other relevant unions in the loop about the discussions. 

Varadkar himself has acknowledged that the manner in which he passed the contract to to the NAGP in April 2019 was no best practice. The body went into liquidation in July 2019.

Dr Ó Tuathail, who was president of the NAGP at the time, said in a joint statement with former NAGP chairman Dr Andrew Jordan that the organisation had been “involved in extensive consultations with the Department of Health and the HSE on the programme for chronic disease management throughout 2018″.

They added: “Arising from these talks, which went on for two years, the association was aware of the main content of the proposed new contract being sought by the State.”

“We received a copy of the finalised, agreed and announced programme for chronic disease management from the then Taoiseach in mid-April. This was seen as a continuation of the decision by the Government to consult with the NAGP and its GP members and keep them informed throughout.

We could not adopt a position on the programme for chronic disease management as a union, without full access to the details that it contained.
It was wrong for one group of GPs to have access to the details of a chronic disease management programme, and for another group of GPs not to have equal access to that information, given that the NAGP and its members were involved in its formation.

“The programme for chronic disease management was to be rolled out to all GPs, and therefore all GPs had a right to understand what the programme entailed, and what would be required of them.”

The Tánaiste is expected to make a statement in the Dáil tomorrow regarding these matters amid criticism from the opposition and concerns from Fine Gael’s coalition partners.

The Green Party has said that Varadkar’s actions were “not appropriate”, while Fianna Fáil TD and Minister for Education Norma Foley said yesterday that a “very frank” statement was needed.

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Sinn Féin TD David Cullinane, also speaking on RTÉ’s This Week programme, accused Varadkar of “hiding behind lame excuses”. 

“On what planet can the Tánaiste say this was acceptable and appropriate behaviour?” he said. 

With reporting from Dominic McGrath, Christina Finn and Rónán Duffy

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Sean Murray

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