GPs will launch challenge to free care for under-sixes
Government plans to introduce free GP care for all children under six in July will face a legal challenge in the High Court this week.
It is understood the National Association of General Practitioners (NAGP) will take a case testing the legality of the new HSE contract which GPs are being asked to sign up to agreeing to provide the free visits.
The latest setback to the long-delayed scheme comes as a survey suggests just 54 of the country's 2,700 GPs have so far signed the contract agreeing to provide the free visits in return for yearly HSE fees.
The NAGP believes the rule that says GPs who do not sign the new under-sixes contract will automatically lose all other existing patients on their books who have a medical card or GP visit card is illegal.
GPs have described the warning that they will lose patients unless they sign up as akin to "putting a gun to the head".
They have until May 25 to sign the contract to allow the parents of about 270,000 children who currently pay for doctor visits to sign up for the service which should begin in July.
The NAGP, which represents about 1,200 GPs, said an independent survey carried out last week found that just 2pc of doctors had so far signed the contract.
A spokesman said the results of the survey suggested that only 21pc of GPs intended to sign the contract before the deadline. Only 23pc plan on signing over the next three months. "The figures fall far short of the minimum threshold of 40pc set by the Minister for Health," he added.
In comparison, more than 39pc said they would definitely not be signing the contract before May 27 and 23pc would definitely not be signing long term.
Some 75pc said they felt coerced and under duress to sign the contract.
Some GPs are deciding as a group not to sign up. The NAGP said that south Tipperary was one such area with 36 GPs there saying they would not sign up.
Clonmel GP Dr Martin Rouse said: "Capacity is a serious issue in general practice at present. To pile on such a substantial workload on a sector that is already struggling to meet demand will have considerable impacts on patient care."