The IMO has welcomed the announcement that the strategic review of general practice is to be conducted, but repeated concerns about its timing.
Earlier today (Monday 3 April), the terms of reference for the review, which is to be completed this year, was published.
The strategic review, with input from key stakeholders, will identify the challenges facing general practice in delivering a sustainable service into the future, and set out the actions necessary to address those challenges in the context of delivering on the principles of Sláintecare.
It will draw on the expertise of the HSE and general practice, and include consultation with the ICGP and the IMO.
The Minister has also invited three practising GPs to participate in the Department of Health project group overseeing the review to ensure that GPs’ voices are heard directly throughout the process.
While the IMO welcomed the announcement, the Organisation said it is “deeply frustrating” that the review will take place after the expansion of eligibility for free GP care.
As announced in Budget 2023, from this month, eligibility for GP care without charges will be extended to people who earn the median household income of €46,000 or less.
In addition to the extension of eligibility based on income, free GP care for all children aged six and seven was due to be introduced at the end of last year. However, this latest target was missed. Minister for Health Stephen Donnelly told the Dáil recently that the Government is currently working on the eligibility extension, which would include approximately 70,000 children.
Dr Denis McCauley, Chair of the IMO GP committee, noted a strategic review is provided for in the 2019 IMO GP Agreement with the Department of Health and HSE.
As provided for in that Agreement, the strategic review will be followed by a full contract review and any move that will lead to increasing demand on GP services should be dealt with in a planned way in that context.
Dr McCauley said: “Clearly the news of the review reflects an acknowledgement that there are significant issues around general practice including capacity, access to out of hours services, and the suitability of the existing financial model underpinning the GP service.
“However, it is deeply flawed that that it will take place after moves that will directly increase pressure on GPs across the country. We already have waiting times for GPs for routine appointments, most GPs have closed their lists to new patients as they are at capacity and this policy will only exacerbate an already challenging situation.”
“Our view is that making GP services free for patients at the point of access can only be achieved on the basis of the capacity being there and we are well short of that capacity at present.”