Tuesday 25 July 2017

Just half of all GPs sign up for free care to under-sixes

Eilish O'Regan

Eilish O'Regan

Family doctors in Donegal and Roscommon have signed up in big numbers for the under-sixes free GP visits scheme, but take-up in south Tipperary is very poor so far.

Nationally just over half - 53pc - of GPs who currently treat medical card holders have signed up for the scheme, which begins in July.

Figures released by the HSE yesterday showed that 1,279 of the 2,414 GPs with existing medical card patients have agreed to the contract to provide free visits to all under-sixes.

Parents are promised an easy online registration system from next Monday, allowing them to register their child with a local GP from a panel of doctors who have signed up.

The latest details on the under-sixes scheme come as a spokesman for Health Minister Leo Varadkar confirmed that around 12,000 people who had their discretionary medical and GP visit cards returned last July can hold on to them for another year.

The figures for the under-sixes scheme show an uneven spread of willing GPs across the country, with numbers below one-third in Cork South Lee, Kildare and west Wicklow, Louth, west Cork, Limerick and Meath.

GPs who have not signed up can continue to charge a child's parents a private fee.

However, the HSE is hoping that those who are holding out will cave in as they risk losing the children to other doctors.

Many doctors are strongly opposed to the scheme, which will provide free visits to all children regardless of their parents' income.

The GPs believe it is fairer to relax income limits for medical cards instead to help the least well-off.

There are also fears of higher workloads with more children coming to surgeries at the expense of time for existing patients. A High Court case brought by Clare GP Dr Yvonne Williams is expected to go ahead today.

Dr Williams wants the introduction of the new scheme postponed until her representative body, the National Association of General Practitioners (NAGP), has an opportunity to negotiate the scheme on behalf of its members.

Dr Williams said if GPs with existing medical card and GP visit card children on their books have their contracts removed because they do not sign up to the new scheme, she will be put in an impossible position and is at risk of having to close her practice.

The HSE, which will defend the case, said it continues to receive signed contracts from GPs and will process these and update this list. This will be added to online, up to and beyond the start of public registration for the new scheme next week. The scheme also includes weight and asthma checks.

Irish Independent

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