Parents face painful choice if GPs don't sign up to deal
FAMILIES whose GP opts not to join the scheme offering free visits to all under sixes have been warned they will have to pay a private fee or find another doctor.
The Government hopes to have at least 80pc of the country's 2,400 GPs providing free visits to all 436,000 under-sixes by mid-July. But many doctors were unwilling to say yesterday if they will sign up.
Asked what parents should do if they live in an area with limited GP services, and find their own doctor is not signing up for the scheme, Social Care Minister Kathleen Lynch said: "If that were to happen, people will have to look for a GP closest to them.
"If they wish to stay with their own GP, their choice will be to stay as a private patient."
The under-sixes scheme, worth €67m, involves the State paying GPs a yearly capitation fee of €125 for an unlimited number of free visits.
When extra payments are added in, it would mean €216 in annual payments for the doctor. The child will get a weight and height check at the age of two and five years.
The GP will also get additional fees for diagnosing and reviewing a child at this age with asthma.
They will get €100 a year if they choose to sign up to providing twice yearly checks for diabetics who have a medical card or GP card.
The minister said it is hoped that legislation will be ready to extend free GP visits to all people over 70 at the same time.
The under-sixes payments, along with the fees for over-70s and diabetics, are worth around €90m to GPs.
Dr Ray Walley, incoming president of the Irish Medical Organisation (IMO) which negotiated the deal, said it is a significant first step in investing in general practice after years of austerity cuts to fees.
"We have begun the process of bringing new resources into general practice. We have more to achieve," he said. He said the union has already started talks on an overhaul of the wider contract for the care of medical card holders which is now out of date.
However, doctors remain deeply divided. The National Association of General Practitioners (NAGP), which wants more medical cards for poorer patients first, said it will be examining the agreement before delivering judgment.
GPs have generally welcomed the move to provide more care to diabetic patients. But others have warned of the additional workload involved in the under-sixes scheme and the extra visits to the surgery and children's homes this will involve. It will put them under more pressure in providing the prompt care needed by their older and sicker patients.
Some surgeries will also not be able to find doctors needed to cope with the extra workload.
Many are also questioning the value of the weight and height checks for under-sixes.
Health Minister Leo Varadkar, who will address the IMO's annual meeting in Kilkenny tomorrow, said he would encourage doctors to sign up.
But Our Children's Health group, which is campaigning for more medical cards for sick children, said it will mean a doctor will treat a well-off under six-year-old for free - but an older child with a condition like Down Syndrome must pay every time they visit.