GPs call for medical card holders to be charged for their services

Charges for medical card holders sparked concern amongst students who hold them in DCU.

A call for medical card holders to be charged for services at the Irish Medical Organisation annual meeting last weekend sparked concern amongst students who hold medical cards in DCU.

At the annual IMO meeting in Killarney, Co Kerry, delegates were told that general practice has become financially unviable and suggested ‘making the public unhappy’ by charging for everything as a way to get the Government to engage with them on a new GP contract.

In response to the idea, Colette Keogh from DCU’s Access Service stressed that any further charges could disadvantage students even further.

“Students are already facing increased college costs, such as accommodation without any increase in maintenance support from SUSI,” she said.

However, former IMO president Dr Ken Egan expressed doubt for any new contract for GPs being put in place within the next five years and said that doctors should increasingly charge patients for services.

“The only way you will get anything is to make the public unhappy,” the Mayo GP said.

The conference highlighted that general practice was facing a workforce crisis in the years ahead, while it was noted that there has been a concerning collapse in the number of young doctors entering contracts to operate the medical card scheme.

Dr Michael Kelleher said there were 2,536 GPs with contracts to operate the scheme, but less than 90 of the doctors working on it under the age of 35.

Meanwhile, students expressed their concern if the charges on medical card holders were to be implemented.

“If I was charged it would mean that I simply couldn’t afford to go to the doctor if I became ill. I couldn’t afford the €40 at the drop of a hat, so would have to save up to go,” Lauren Cleary, a student from Donegal said.

Arriving at the doctor’s group conference, Minister for Health Simon Harris said the Government wants to spend “many, many millions more on general practice in the coming years”.

However, Dr John O’Brien stated general practice was at a tipping point and said, “if we are to make general practice survive, we need an injection of new money now with no work attached to it.”

By: Katie Gallagher

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