GP practices were paid over €540 million by the HSE last year for providing services for State health schemes, including the treatment of medical card patients. However, GPs have insisted that this funding does not represent GP earnings.
According to the figures, Care-Doc in Carlow/Kilkenny was paid the highest amount by the HSE, receiving €3.3 million, while over 40 practices received over €500,000 each.
However, these figures represent gross payments to GPs, from which they have to pay for all their practice expenses including the premises and staff, such as other doctors and nurses.
According to the CEO of the National Association of General Practitioners (NAGP), Chris Goodey, ‘the release of these figures in isolation provides a misleading impression that this is what GPs earn'.
"GPs receive, on average, €9 per month for each medical card patient irrespective of whether they attend once or 10 times over that month. The reality is that these payments do not cover the cost of that care. The published figures contribute to business costs, the largest of which is staff costs. These GPs employ other GPs, nurses and administrative staff to deliver a high level of service to their patients," he insisted.
Mr Goodey sais that in recent years, GPs have suffered major cuts while business costs are rising.
"The impact of these cuts is being felt by patients as pressure on GPs increase waiting times for an appointment," he explained.
Meanwhile according to GP, Dr Austin O'Carroll, who received ones of the highest payments last year, simply looking at payments fails to take into account the services on offer.
His north inner city Dublin practice employs nine other GPs, along with support staff. The practice has had to employ extra doctors to hold extra clinics, due to an increase in the number of homeless people accessing services.
Dr O'Carroll runs 18 clinics in seven locations for homeless people. Some 5,000 homeless patients received treatment in 2015 and Dr. O'Carroll's practice served the majority of those patients.
"We cannot look at payments in isolation. We must also look at what the GP is delivering in terms of care in the community. General practice is operating under severe pressure. We know that general practice is the one section of the health service that is working, but it needs investment to allow GPs to provide a first-class standard of care to patients," he insisted.
The decision to publish the GP payment figures has also been described as ‘misleading and unhelpful' by the Irish Medical Organisation (IMO). It pointed out that GPs are responsible for 25 million clinical consultations per year and over €160 million has been taken out of GP services since the financial crisis.
"The figures are gross figures which take no account of the substantial costs incurred by GPs in providing services including cost of premises, staff, technology, insurance and every other business cost for which they are liable," commented Dr Padraig McGarry, chairman of the IMO GP Committee.
Discussions on this topic are now closed.