1,000 GPs have now signed up for under-sixes scheme - HSE
More than 1,000 GPs have signed up to join the scheme providing free visits to all children under six, the HSE said yesterday.
Today is the deadline for signing the contracts for around 2,700 GPs - but many are holding out.
Despite the majority of GPs resisting signing the contract with just weeks to go before the launch of the scheme, the HSE insisted it now has "critical mass".
It said it will continue to accept GPs who sign up after today's date.
"The number of signed contracts is rising daily and the HSE expects to continue receiving signed contracts over the coming days," said a spokeswoman.
She said it was "on track" to start parents registering their children later this month with the full roll-out from July.
Health Minister Leo Varadkar and Social Care Minister Kathleen Lynch have now written to individual GPs asking them to join. They likened those who criticise the plan as akin to opponents of the Mother and Child Scheme of the 1950s.
Registration for parents will be a "simple online process and will be easier than booking an airline ticket", they said.
GPs who have existing six-year-olds patients with a medical card or GP card on their books and do not sign up to the new contract will be allowed hold on to them for the summer.
But this would just be a transition period and the children would be reassigned after that to a GP who was participating in the scheme, they added.
The free GP visits for the over-70s will also come into effect in July.
Many GPs are expected to hold out until the week after next when a High Court case taken by a GP opposing the scheme is heard.
The National Association of General Practitioners, which has criticised the scheme, yesterday called for the HSE and Department of Health to hold round-the-table talks with all GP bodies.
It warned the scheme would lead to waiting lists in GP surgeries.