PLANS to introduce free GP care for children under six from the middle of this year could be delayed by a looming court battle.
The Irish Medical Organisation (IMO), the union representing GPs, has given the Department of Health 14 days to agree to negotiations on the terms and conditions the doctors will have to sign up to as part of the new measure.
Otherwise they are threatening to seek a court injunction to stop the current process of "consultation" on the draft contract.
They have dismissed the current process as "window-dressing" and an effort to "bulldoze" through a "repugnant" document.
It was distributed for consultation last month, with a deadline of 21 days for responses. Around €37m has been set aside for the measure this year.
Among its contentious clauses is that GPs who sign up to the scheme will be subject to review every five years.
Dr Ray Walley, GP spokesman, said that certain clauses in the contract are a threat to the privacy of the doctor-patient relationship and that it would gag doctors from being whistleblowers.
He pointed to the clause which says that the doctors "shall not do anything to prejudice the name or reputation of the HSE".
Patient safety would also be under threat, he said, because of the amount of bureaucracy the GP, who already has a huge workload, would have to face.
Dr Walley said: "The HSE has done nothing to earn the trust of the Irish public.
"I dread the consequences of extending their influence into the GP sector, which has proved incredibly successful as it is."
The union has now written to Minister James Reilly and Junior Minister Alex White, claiming that the IMO is not prevented from negotiating by virtue of competition law or any law.
Asked what level of fees they would demand, the IMO's industrial relations officer Shirley Coulter said they are currently working out a series of costings.
The draft contract does not specify the fee which GPs would be paid. It proposes that the doctor's care would not just be confined to "diagnosis" and "treatment" but would also involve health promotion and disease surveillance.