Medical cards in hardship cases up to 103,000
The number of people with discretionary medical cards has breached 100,000 for the first time, new figures show.
Around 103,000 people now have one of these medical cards which are given to those who are over the income limit but face financial hardship due to illness.
The number has doubled since June 2014 - when the coalition suffered in the European polls after the electorate reacted angrily to the removal of thousands of cards.
It signals a more generous system is in place which has widened the net, making it easier for people in need to get a card.
Acting Health Minister Leo Varadkar said: "Social and medical issues are considered when determining whether undue hardship exists for an individual accessing general practitioner or other medical services."
The new figures follow revelations in the Irish Independent that nearly one in five GPs, almost 500, are still not signed up to the under-sixes scheme, with only half the doctors in Dun Laoghaire signed up.
The breakdown of the figures, which were obtained by Dublin west Fianna Fáil TD Jack Chambers, showed how many parents who want to avail of the scheme are having to switch doctors.
A Gorilla Survey of 200 GPs, overseen by Dr Sean Higgins, found that some GPs suffered a "tsunami" of attendances by under-sixes over the winter.
Many of them were suffering no more than "a runny nose" and did not need to see a doctor.
One parent who was taking her children to Disneyland brought them to the surgery before they left, even though there was nothing wrong with them.
Meanwhile, former HSE chief Prof Brendan Drumm has called for significant investment in primary care to alleviate some of the problems in the Irish health service.
Prof Drumm, who was the first head of the HSE, will address a public meeting organised by the National Association of General Practitioners tonight.
He said GPs need to be "allowed to take more responsibility for bringing solutions to the table."
They will discuss the need for a 'Tallaght strategy' type approach to sorting out issues in the health service.
The aim is to get agreement on actions from various vested interests.