The Minister for Health Stephen Donnelly said he understands GP capacity concerns following the Budget’s extension of free GP care.
Budget 2023 increases the eligibility of people for GP access cards. The scheme will be expanded to cover all children aged six and seven by the end of 2022 and, from 1 April 2023, eligibility will further be extended to people who earn the median household income of €46,000 or less. This means that almost half of the population will have access to free GP care according to the Department of Health.
However, in response the IMO described the initiative as “ill-conceived and poorly planned in the context of current capacity, work load, and workforce numbers”.
The IMO said “while we support the objective of removing financial barriers to patients accessing care, such a significant expansion in patient numbers (over 25 per cent) requires long term planning, not politically motivated budget announcements.”
Responding at a press conference this afternoon, Minister Donnelly said he was “aware” of the IMO’s concern.
“What has been raised with me, by the IMO and by GPs all over the country, is that we have to invest in GP capacity, we can’t just provide half a million extra GP cards because we know that for everybody who gets them on average, the number of visits goes up,” said Minister Donnelly.
“So what I would say to anyone in general practice who is nervous about this, I understand that. Because many GPs aren’t getting to their patients as quickly as they want and they are quite rightly saying that we need more doctors, we need more nurses, we need more access to diagnostics, we need more primary care supports, we need more access to consultant specialists. We [the Government] are doing all of those things.”
He said that “ultimately Government has to decide that it is time to do what we all know needs to be done and that is what we are doing”.
“Sometimes you wait for the perfect, and if you wait for everybody to be satisfied that everything they need is in place before we do the right thing, [then] sometimes the right thing takes far too long to happen.”
Budget 2023 represents an investment of over €23 billion in Ireland’s health and social care services, according to the Department of Health.
Minister of State with responsibility for Public Health, Wellbeing and the National Drugs Strategy, Ms Mary Butler said : “I am delighted to have secured an overall funding increase for 2023 of almost €150m. In addition to this additional core funding, I am also anticipating significant support to hospices, nursing homes and S39 providers in the mental health and older persons areas from the €100 million once-off health sector fund….This investment will help these essential services in what will undoubtedly be a challenging period.”