Written Answers. - Reform of GMS.

Michael Creed

Ceist:

44 Mr. Creed asked the Minister for Health the steps, if any, he will take to reform the General Medical Service to ensure that patients have a choice when it comes to choosing their general practitioner; and if he will take into account the disadvantages facing women in rural areas who may wish to have access to a female general practitioner. [6814/96]

,Limerick East): Regulations relating to the general medical services (GMS) scheme stipulate that, in so far as is practicable, a person availing himself of the service shall have a choice of medical practitioner.

A condition relating to this choice is that the doctor concerned must be practising within seven miles of the patient's place of residence. Exceptions may be permitted to this condition, for example, in remote areas where the distances involved would make its application impracticable. In addition, the doctor concerned must not already have a full list of patients and he-she must be willing to accept the person as a patient.

Within the parameters mentioned above, medical card holders have always had the right to change their doctor of choice under the scheme.

The responsibility for the provision of services under the GMS rests with the health boards. Posts in the GMS are filled by open competition. Health boards operate an equal opportunities policy in their competitions for these posts which are open to all suitably qualified candidates.

In the context of progressing developments under the health strategy and arising out of the availability of investment moneys in general practice from the indicative drug target scheme, there have been a number of improvements in the range of services provided by doctors in the GMS scheme. In this regard, the Department requested the health boards last year to concentrate on the development, within general practice, of a range of services in a number of areas including the area of women's health. It was suggested to the health boards that, where special expertise or support was not available, such services could be provided on a sessional basis. This initiative would allow health boards, in co-operation with general practitioners, to addresss situations where there is non-availability of a female GP, for example, in rural areas.
In addition to these developments at general practitioner level, I have asked the health boards to prepare detailed plans for the delivery of a comprehensive family planning service, including choice of service provider, and these plans are currently being finalised.