Free GP care will not be given to children over six under Fianna Fáil plans
Fianna Fáil would not extend free GP care to all children over six, as promised by Health Minister Leo Varadkar, if the party is returned to government, it emerged yesterday.
However, the party does plan, if elected, to make it easier to qualify for a GP visit card by gradually relaxing the means test. The Coalition has controversially promised to give free GP care to children of different age groups in the coming years. It plans to start with the under-sixes and over-70s this summer.
Fianna Fáil spokesman on health Billy Kelleher confirmed his party would not remove free GP care from the under-sixes or over-70s.
But launching his party's health policy - which will be the basis of its manifesto for the next general election - he revealed it would not be following the Coalition's promise to roll it out to older children, regardless of family income. However, people with very serious illnesses, which are causing them undue financial hardship, should receive a discretionary medical card, he added.
"We plan to expand free GP care ensuring those who need it most and cannot afford it are given first priority," he said, at the launch of 'Putting Patients and Services First'.
Mr Kelleher said the party spent time producing the policy in order to conduct a "deep and meaningful" analysis in advance. It concluded that a taxation-funded health system is the most progressive and the current Government's proposal for universal health insurance would hand over too much control to private insurers.
Instead, the party plans to build up the public health system and expand care outside hospital. People can make up their own minds if they want private health insurance, he added.
The plan, which would result in health spending rising by around €450m, will see:
n The abolition of the €2.50 prescription charge over two years.
n The reduction of the €144 a month Drug Payment Scheme threshold to €120.
The policy involves investing in public health services, rejecting the current Government proposal for compulsory universal health insurance, which it estimates would cost a family €8,000 in premiums.
Other key elements of the policy include:
n Offering GPs a State salary to practise in rural and urban areas which are without a doctor.
n Adding a 20pc tax to sugary, fizzy drinks, generating €58m.
n Setting up an Office of Alcohol Control to curb abuse.
n Promising public patients on waiting lists treatment within a six-month limit.
n 800 more nursing home places under the Fair Deal scheme in 2016.
Mr Kelleher planned to recruit 200 more hospital consultants over five years and admitted Ireland has to compete on salaries.
Another 500 nurses would be hired next year. All hospitals must provide scans seven days a week. GP and other primary care services delivered by professionals, such as physiotherapists and public health nurses, will get €120m extra annually for five years.
The party plans to recruit 500 more therapists to reduce some of the very long waiting times for services like speech and language therapy.
He predicted the Government parties' pre-election health promises will try to "outbid" Fianna Fáil's plan, with more money now coming into the Exchequer.
Already Finance Minister Michael Noonan is "swashbuckling" around Europe looking for flexibility to give more away "to purchase more votes," he added.