HSE works on back-up plan as 38pc of family GPs snub scheme
GPs who refuse to sign new contracts giving free visits to children under six may be forced to do so under a back-up plan being drawn up by health officials, the Irish Independent has learnt.
Some children in this age group may be issued with "discretionary" GP visit cards outside of the new scheme that would entitle them to free visits.
The alternative plan is being considered amid fears some families have to travel long distances to secure free GP visits under the new scheme.
The default plan follows the online registration with GPs yesterday of the first 10,000 of the 270,000 children eligible for the scheme, which starts in July.
Eight hundred more GPs signed up for the arrangement yesterday, bringing the total number on board to 1,492 out of 2,415 GPs, an estimated 62pc.
Just 8pc of GPs in south Tipperary had joined and only one in four doctors in Louth has signed up so far.
Other areas with poor take-up include west Cork, Limerick, Cork north and Dublin south east. One mother said no GP in Bandon, Co Cork, had yet signed up.
Many parents found their family doctor was not listed on the panel of doctors who have so far signed up for the scheme and others found they may have to travel to avail of the service.
The HSE website crashed for two hours yesterday due to the volume of registrations.
A spokesman said the website has four servers and one of them crashed causing the problem.
The regular link for registration is www.gpvisitcard.ie and the default is www.pcrsonline.ie/portal/free-gp-care-web
By noon yesterday, some 6,414 registrations were completed, averaging 20 per minute.
An audit trail showed the transaction rate varying from nine per minute up to 58.
Health Minister Leo Varadkar said he believed the number of GPs signing up would continue to climb before the start of the scheme.
"From this summer, almost 300,000 children will be able to see their GP without paying fees, for the first time," he said.
Social Care Minister Kathleen Lynch said there continued to be a worry about the availability of GPs to provide the scheme in rural areas.
Parents who have registered and have not been issued with free GP visit cards by July 1 will be able to avail of free visits, the HSE confirmed.
Once they have registered and been accepted by a GP the turnaround time for the issuing of a card is 10 days.
John Hennessy, the HSE's head of primary care, said the online registration system is a simple process requiring each child's PPS number, gender and date of birth, a parent's or guardian's PPS number and contact details.
Parents can check a panel of GPs and find out who has signed up so far.
"If their GP of choice is accepting online registrations they simply submit their completed application online and await GP acceptance.
"If their GP of choice is not accepting online registrations, they complete the form online, print it and bring it to their GP of choice for acceptance and return it to us by post," Mr Hennessy said.
"If any parent or guardian needs help or guidance they should contact our LoCall helpline 1890 252 919 and we will gladly assist."