LEGISLATION to give effect to free GP care for children aged five and under will go to Cabinet within two weeks, despite threats of legal action over it.
GP groups have been severely critical of the voluntary opt-in €37m scheme, claiming it is too problematic to work, and have suggested that less than 5pc of doctors would be willing to sign up.
But Junior Health Minister Alex White says that up to 80pc of doctors had signalled a willingness to operate the scheme once meaningful consultation had taken place. Speaking to the Irish Independent, Mr White said: "I think the problems can be overcome and then the GPs will go for this – I am hopeful."
The Irish Medical Organisation (IMO) last week signalled legal action against the measure, which was announced last Budget day. Mr White extended them an invitation to "meaningful talks" without precondition.
"My door is certainly very open and I would hope we could engage properly on this and deal with the difficulties expressed by the GPs, but I'd be excluding nothing from any talks," Mr White said.
But Dr Ray Walley, spokesman for GPs, was scathing in his criticism of Mr White and demanded formal recognition for the IMO to negotiate on behalf of its members.
"We are not opposed to free GP care but it needs planning, negotiation and proper resourcing," he told the Irish Independent. Dr Walley said a four-page letter was sent last Thursday to Mr White, but no response had yet been forthcoming.
Last week, the IMO gave the Department of Health 14 days to agree to negotiations on the terms and conditions the doctors would 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.
Dr Walley said the current proposals threaten the doctor-patient relationship and that it would gag doctors from being whistleblowers. Patient safety would also be under threat, he said, because of the amount of bureaucracy faced by GPs who already have a huge workload.
The union has now written to Health Minister James Reilly and Mr White, claiming that the IMO is not prevented from negotiating by virtue of competition law or any law.