Wednesday 17 January 2018

Priscilla Lynch: Free GP care plans could cause parents some complications

Leo Varadkar
Leo Varadkar

Free GP care for all children aged under six - what's not to like?

Well plenty apparently, if you are a GP wondering about signing up to this new deal.

There has been plenty of media coverage over the past week about the Government finally agreeing the deal on introducing free GP care for under sixes, and for those aged over 70 too, this summer, but what does it actually mean if you are a parent of a child in this age bracket?

Parents should make themselves aware of exactly what is on offer, and what the positive as well as the potentially negative effects are of what the more cynical are calling an 'election sweetener'.

Under the new arrangements, an additional 270,000 children under six years will benefit from GP care free at the point of service by July.


There will be two preventive checks focused on health and wellbeing and the prevention of disease, carried out when a child is aged two and five years.

The contract will also include an agreed cycle of care for children diagnosed with asthma.

For cash-strapped parents this all sounds great. Even better than when it was first announced over 18 months ago.

As they say, the Devil is in the detail. While the 'deal' announced last week is certainly a step closer, it does not guarantee that your local GP will provide this service to your child.

GPs are independent contractors, not health service employees, and are free to choose if they want to sign up to these new contracts.

There is also confusion about the new contract as there are already existing contracts in place for the thousands of children aged under six who already have a full medical card or GP visit card.

Only one GP representative body - the IMO - was involved in the negotiations of the new deal, and while they are pleased with the outcome and think it is a good deal, rival organisation the National Association of General Practitioners (NAGP) was not involved and has rejected the accord.

Essentially, the successful roll-out of the under 6 scheme needs a critical mass of GPs to sign up.

Crucially, if you are a parent of a child aged under 6, will yours? If they don't, will you find another GP with the space to take on your child, and you and the rest of your family if you also want to move?

Ireland is already experiencing a serious GP manpower crisis, with hundreds on the verge of retirement, and both newly-trained and well established Irish GPs emigrating to countries with better prospects.

Those left say they are struggling to deal with the amount of patients they already have and fear being able to cope with an influx of young children, as well as extra over 70s, who will likely visit GPs significantly more often as the service will be free.

In the north-east of the country in particular many people already struggle to find a GP when they move to a new town, and there are many vacant GP posts that the HSE is struggling to fill.

One of the great benefits of Irish GP surgeries is being able to get a same day or drop-in appointment when you need it.


We do not want to end up like the UK where you frequently have to wait weeks for a standard GP appointment and days for a more urgent one.

The HSE will issue contracts for the under-6 service to GPs in the coming weeks and aims to commence online patient registration during May, so that all the arrangements for the commencement of the service can be completed by the end of June.

You wlll have to register your child with a particular doctor online, but it is hard to see how all GPs will have either said yes or no in time for the commencement of the registration process.

Given the HSE's IT and medical card processing record it is also hard to see if parents will receive confirmation that their application has been approved in time.

So don't get too excited just yet if you are looking forward to this new scheme.

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