Families to foot bill if docs don't join free GP scheme
PARENTS will have to pay private fees or change doctors if their family GP does not sign up to the scheme offering free care for under sixes.
Speaking at the launch of the scheme, junior health minister Kathleen Lynch said she hopes at least 80pc of the countries 2,400 GPs will join the scheme, due to be in place by mid-July.
Along with covering 436,000 children aged under six years old, the minister said it is hoped that legislation will be ready to extend free GP visits to all people over 70 at the same time.
However, many doctors remain undecided as to whether they will participate in the scheme.
Ms Lynch was asked what parents should do if they live in an area with limited GP services, and find their own doctor is not signing up for the scheme.
"If that were to happen people will have to look for a GP closest to them. If they wish to stay with their own GP their choice will be to stay as a private patient," she said.
The under-sixes scheme, which will cost €67m, to implement, involves the State paying GPs a yearly capitation fee of €125 for an unlimited number of free visits.
When extra payments are added in, it would mean €216 in annual payments to the doctor.
The child will get a weight and height check at ages two and five years.
GPs will receive an annual payment of €100 if they choose to sign up to providing twice yearly checks for diabetics who have a medical card or GP card.
The under-sixes payments, along with the fees for over-70s and diabetics are worth around €90m to GPs,
Dr Ray Walley, incoming president of the Irish Medical Organisation (IMO), the doctors' union which negotiated the deal, said it is a significant first step in investing in general practice after years of austerity cuts to fees.
"We have begun the process of bringing new resources into general practice. We have more to achieve," he added.
Dr Walley said the union had already begun talks on an overhaul of the wider contract for the care of medical card holders which is now out of date.
However, doctors continue to remain deeply divided over the new scheme.
The National Association for General Practitioners complained that its 1,200 members had been excluded from the negotiations surrounding care for under sixes.
A spokesman said the organisation remains of the view that "the most appropriate method of introducing universal care is by raising the income threshold at which patients qualify for a full medical card, as well as investing in GP-delivered chronic disease management.
"The Association believes that patients who are most vulnerable should be given priority," the spokesman added.
Health Minister Leo Varadkar, who is to address the IMO's annual meeting in Kilkenny tomorrow, said he would encourage doctors to sign up.
The Our Children's Health group - which is campaigning for more medical cards for sick children - said the plans will mean that a doctor will treat a well-off under six-year-old for free but an older child with a condition like Down Syndrome will have to pay every time they visit the GP