Minister admits no timetable for free GP care
THE promised rollout of free GP care to the entire population by 2016 has had another setback after junior health minister Alex White said he could not produce any timetable for the measure.
Another document setting out how it may be extended on a phased basis, based on age, is due in September, he told the Joint Oireachtas Committee on Health and Children.
He revealed that free GP care for the under-sixes will not happen this summer as promised and instead will be introduced in the autumn.
Mr White was moving the Bill to give effect to the measure which will give free GP visits to another 240,000 children at the Oireachtas committee. It will mean that all children, aged five and under, will get the free GP care, regardless of their parents' income, with €37m set aside to fund it this year.
However, Opposition TDs on the committee questioned the timing of the move, coming in the wake of the discretionary medical card controversy.
Mr White said the key features of the bill are:
* It provides an entitlement for all children aged five years and younger to a GP service without fees.
* It removes the need for children aged five years and younger to have a medical card or GP visit card under the GMS scheme to qualify for a GP service.
* It will also remove the need for many families with children aged five years and younger to be forced into the situation where they need to consider if their child is "sick enough" to justify paying for a visit to the GP.
* It provides that the HSE may enter a contract with GPs for the provision of this GP service to children and provides that the minister may set the rates of fees payable to GPs for this service.
"The Government is committed to introducing, on a phased basis, a universal GP service without fees for the entire population, as set out in the Programme for Government and the Future Health strategy framework," he said.
"At present, just over 40pc of the population can access a publicly funded GP service.
"The balance of the population, almost two-and-a-half million people, must pay the 'market rate' for a GP consultation. It deters some necessary medical care because it is unreasonable to expect an individual to make a good decision on what is necessary and what is unnecessary care," he said.