Parents may have to face switch GP in free care row
Parents whose child is currently covered by a medical card will have to switch doctors if their family GP refuses to sign a new contract offering free GP care to under-sixes.
Junior health minister Alex White is threatening to remove medical cards covering under-sixes from doctors who opt not to sign a new contract.
This will create huge disruption for parents, who will have to uproot even though their child already receives free GP care and all the other benefits under the medical card scheme.
Any family doctor who wants to treat a child under six who is not a private patient will have to sign the new contract or lose patients. The National Association of General Practitioners accused the minister of "bully-boy tactics" to coerce GPs into signing an unworkable contract.
It warned that any attempt by the Government to alter existing legally binding contracts without negotiation would be vigorously challenged in the courts.
The threat by the junior minister is part of a move to drive GPs to sign up to providing free GP care to around 240,000 under-sixes. A spokesman for the minister, who unveiled the move, was unavailable for further comment yesterday.
There are over 400,000 under-sixes in the country and around 180,000 children of that age already have free GP care.
The Irish Medical Organisation (IMO) has expressed "grave concern" at suggestions that the Government will remove medical cards covering children aged under six from GPs who refuse to sign the new contract.
The IMO's GP spokesman Dr Ray Walley said the Government seemed to be reversing its previous stance that GPs would be under no obligation to sign up to the new contract.
He said: "This approach suggests the Government has no interest in negotiations and is more interested in effectively coercing GPs to sign up.
"This may constitute a breach of the constitutional rights of GPs to earn a livelihood and it runs completely against the legally binding GMS contracts already in place."
The IMO has written to Mr White, seeking clarification on this matter and requesting "by return" a copy of the draft legislation that was cleared by Cabinet.
"If the Government proceeds on this basis, they will make a difficult situation an impossible one," he said.