A general practitioner, or GP, is a doctor who works from a private surgery of health board premised, rather than a hospital. There is no national register of general practitioners in Ireland, though the Medical Council is currently drawing up a specialist register of Irish GPs. It is estimated that there are more than 2,500 GPs in Ireland. GPs are private entrepreneurs. They run their own surgeries, hire administrative staff, and generally function like any other small business.
Most Irish GPs have both medical card (GMS) and private patients. Private patients are charged a fee per visit or service, which varies from surgery to surgery, though most commonly this fee is between €25 and €35. Medical card holding patients are seen without direct charge to the individual. The doctor receives an annual payment for each such patient from the GMS and other payments for special services.
To attend a doctor in Ireland as a medical card patient, you must first register with their practice. Patients have the right to choose their own GP, and may change doctors if they wish. GPs, in turn, have the right to refuse to accept a patient, for example if they felt their practice was becoming too large, though this is quite rare.
Private patients also select their own GP. GPs maintain a medical record for every patient in their practice. It is a good idea to become a patient of a particular practice so that you have a GP to call on, even if it is for routine matters such as check-ups and insurance medicals.
GPs offer a very wide range of services to patients. For example, most practices offer the full range of family planning services and carry out minor surgery. Its a good idea to ask for a list of practice services.
The hours that the practice is open varies. Doctors have a variety of arrangements in place to provide cover for patients over a 24 hour period. These include rotas with other colleagues or deputising services.
If a GP believes that a patient requires more specialist attention or care, the GP will arrange for them to be referred to the appropriate health professional. In this way, GPs act as "gatekeepers" to the wider health system, such as hospitals and specialist clinics.
The Irish College of General Practitioners www.icgp.ie provides information on general practitioner services.
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