Sunday 23 October 2016

Burton and Varadkar clash over parties' free GP care proposals

Philip Ryan and Niall O'Connor

Published 04/02/2016 | 02:30

Tanaiste and Labour Party Leader, Joan Burton
Tanaiste and Labour Party Leader, Joan Burton
Leo Varadkar. Photo: Arthur Carron

Tánaiste Joan Burton's pledge to introduce universal free GP care by 2020 has been dismissed by Fine Gael.

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Just hours after the launch of the election campaign, Ms Burton took a swipe at Health Minister Leo Varadkar after he said such a proposal was not realistic in such a timeframe.

And the pair also clashed over whether they have spoken to each other about the issue of training extra doctors to cover the extension of free GP care, which is currently in place for under-sixes.

The row has undermined the Coalition's bid to portray itself as the only stable option. FIne Gael sources have said Ms Burton's plan would require an additional 2,000 GPs to be hired.

"How is the Tánaiste going to do that when we have a doctors shortage already?" said a source.

Speaking at the Labour Party's election campaign launch, Ms Burton, pictured right, stood by her proposals and suggested that Mr Varadkar was displaying a lack of ambition.

"Why don't we actually train up more GPs? We've some of the smartest, best educated young people in Europe," Ms Burton said.

"I think the answer to that is to ask Leo Varadkar a question; why don't we train up more GPs?"

Asked why she was raising her concern with Mr Varadkar's position onlyyesterday, Ms Burton said: "I've had the conversation about health with the minister on numerous occasions."

And her deputy leader Alan Kelly added: "I can assure you the Tánaiste had that conversation and I can assure you she did ask all those questions."

But hours later, at Fine Gael's first election event, Mr Varadkar insisted he did not meet the Tánaiste to discuss her concerns over free GP care.

"I don't recall having a meeting with her about [it] or having discussed it with her. But given that I see her nearly every week, it is quite possible, but I certainly have no recollection of a meeting," he said.

The minister, pictured right, said Fine Gael's health policy, which now does not include universal free GP care, is "both ambitious and realistic".

"There is no point in being realistic if you are not ambitious," he added.

He said the health service trains 160 GPs a year - about the same amount that retire each year. Mr Varadkar said the next Government will have to hire 500 more GPs just to "stand still".

"It is up to the Labour Party to demonstrate how they would train the additional GPs to deal with the additional demand," he added.

Mr Varadkar said he did not believe Ms Burton's comments were down to constituency rivalry in Dublin West.

Irish Independent

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