State slated for ‘apartheid’ on medical cards

Dr Maitiú Ó Tuathail
Dr Maitiú Ó Tuathail

“Medical apartheid” is well and truly alive in Galway with new figures showing there has been an increase in doctor visit cards and a corresponding decline in medical cards which provide for a far more comprehensive array of free benefits.

Figures published by the HSE’s Primary Care Reimbursement Service show there has been a nearly 7% jump in the number of GP visit cards for Galway residents over the last two years.

Medical cards had declined by over 9% in the same period.

This year 28,332 Galway patients were eligible for the doctor visit cards, up from 26,522 in January 2017. Medical cards went from 92,971 on that date to 85,146 this month.

The Galway-based President of the National Association of GPs (NAGP) Dr Maitiu O’Tuathail said there is no comparison between a doctor visit card (DVC) and a medical card.

A DVC costs the State about 10% of what a medical card does.

“Doctor visit cards (DVC) include GP visits only. Unlike medical cards they do not include the cost of medications. Furthermore, they do not allow patients access to vital services such as physiotherapy, mental health, speech and language therapy or public health nurse care,” the Leitir Mor native stated.

“What we are seeing here is the sustained reduction in the number of medical cards issued by stealth. This is a cost-saving measure being used by the government which will ultimately restrict access to vital services to those who need them the most, therefore costing the patient.

“It is also increasing unrestricted access to General Practice, which is a finite resource and is already stretched beyond capacity, which will, in turn, further reduces access to General Practice for the entire population, further impacting patients who genuinely need medical care.”

Dr Andrew Jordan, chairperson of the NAGP, called on the Government to end the con job of doctor visit cards and provide the most marginalised in society with full medical cards, allowing them access the healthcare they deserve.

“What this amounts to is medical apartheid, where those with medical cards have access to all the services they need, but those with DVCs have access to none.”

Chief executive of the NAGP Chris Goodey explained that the existing system forces GPs to accept large numbers of medical card and GP visit cards in order to make their practices viable.

As a result they often have to work 70-hour weeks, leading to burn-out and high levels of emigration among younger GPs.

Each year around 180 GPs are trained but half of them emigrate soon after graduation.

In the last budget the Government announced 100,000 new GP visit cards without any consultation with the professionals who provide the service to those extra patients.

“It’s like the Government giving away free membership to a gym that is already at capacity,” he stated.

“There are approximately two million patients with medical cards or GP visit cards. Over the past eight years, the number of medical and GP-visit cards has increased by 40%.

“Over that same period, under the cuts imposed by the Financial Emergency Measures in the Public Interest Act (FEMPI), funding for general practitioners was cut by 38%. It has never been restored.”