The IMO has concluded negotiations with Government and the HSE on a package of measures for the extension of doctor visit cards.
The agreement includes a total financial package amounting to €130 million for a full year.
The extension covers all children aged 6 and 7 not currently in receipt of a GP card (an estimated 78,000) and up to 470,000 people on the basis of income
Speaking today (4 July), Dr Tadhg Crowley, Chair of the GP committee of the IMO, said: “This agreement recognises the need to continue to invest in general practice given Government policy to expand the number of patients covered by doctor visit cards. The agreement recognises the need to retain and expand the GP practice team and support GPs in delivering care to patients.”
He said that general practice was a critically important part of the health system, with GPs dealing with over 24 million patient visits every year.
Dr Crowley said: “GPs are working under significant pressure every day given the capacity problems within general practice. The reality is that there is no quick fix for our capacity issues and while we welcome more training places being made available, more will need to be done to attract and retain doctors to the system.
“Patients very much value the continuity of care provided by general practice and we know that health outcomes are improved when that is supported. Patients also recognise the capacity issues within the service and that GPs are doing their very best to deliver timely care.”
He said that the IMO welcomed the commencement of a wider strategic review into general practice. “This agreement is a step in the right direction that recognises the need to support general practice but it will not exist in isolation. Rather, it is an interim agreement that will act as a bridge to the development of a new model of general practice. This review will be followed by talks to determine contractual terms to enable the objective of supporting the delivery of care in the community.”
The IMO will now commence a consultation process with GPs around the country on the proposals.
Under the terms of the agreement, applications for GP visit cards for all children aged 6 and 7 will open on 11 August 2023. The first phase of the income-based expansion will commence on 11 September 2023 and the second phase will commence on 13 November 2023.
The agreement with the IMO provides a package worth €30 million specifically to support capacity in general practice.
There will also be additional support of €2 million to support the GP out-of-hours services.
Minister for Health Stephen Donnelly stated:
“I have long made clear my commitment to making healthcare affordable for all. Today marks a significant milestone as we provide those who can least afford to pay for access to care with the right to attend a GP at no cost. As I said at the time of the budget last October, this is a gamechanger for our health service. Ensuring that more people can afford to visit their GP gives access to healthcare in the right place – one of the central commitments in the Programme for Government. It also removes the burden on people who may defer GP visits because they simply cannot afford it.
“I am delighted that we will be implementing this expansion in care with the agreement of the IMO. We collaborated successfully with general practice particularly through the period of the Covid pandemic, when GPs displayed an extraordinary commitment to delivering patient care. I look forward to continuing our collaboration as we embark on this historic expansion of free GP access.”