Free GP care for under-11s ‘up for negotiation’, says Leo Varadkar
HEALTH Minister Leo Varadkar has said that the next phase of free GP care for children - extending to those under 11 - is "up for negotiation".
The scheme is due to be in place by mid-July and an expected 2,400 GPs are due to sign up.
Along with covering 436,000 children aged under six years old, junior health minister Kathleen Lynch said it is hoped that legislation will be ready to extend free GP visits to all people over 70 at the same time.
Minister Varadkar this morning said that the next steps will be extending the scheme to all children but said it was unlikely to be before he or Minister Lynch leave office. He emphasised that free GP care for under sixes is "a first step" which is being phased in.
"The next steps that the Government wants to see is the inclusion of primary school kids and then secondary school kids.
"Separate to that, is the management of chronic disease by your GP rather than in the hospital where it is more expensive and less efficient," Minister Varadkar told Morning Ireland.
"It think it is important that it is done in consultation with the GPs in such a way that, number one it protects practice income and, secondly, it doesn't overwhelm existing manpower and infrastructure."
It was revealed that 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. 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 provide twice-yearly checks for diabetics who have a medical card or GP card.
Dr Ray Walley, incoming president of the Irish Medical Organisation (IMO), said it is a significant first step in investing in general practice.
"We have begun the process of bringing new resources into general practice. We have more to achieve," he added.
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.
Minister Varadkar said that they are also expanding discretionary medical cards for seriously ill children.
"It is the case where there are sick children who don't qualify on income grounds for medical cards but we do give them the full medical card on discretionary grounds," he said.
"Since Minister Lynch and I have taken office the numbers (of discretionary medical card holders) have increased from 50,000 to 80,000."