Retired GPs asked to join under-sixes scheme as it faces court challenge
Retired family doctors are being asked to join the scheme offering free GP visits to children under six.
Contracts have also been sent to GPs who do not have formal garda clearance to treat children and who exclusively treat patients with drug addiction problems.
The move comes amid ongoing resistance from hundreds of GPs to signing up to the July 1 scheme. Some GPs have described it as "morally wrong".
A High Court action challenging the under-sixes contract is due to be lodged today by the National Association of General Practitioners (NAGP).
The legal test relates to the rule that GPs with existing patients under six who have a medical card or GP card will lose these contracts if they do not sign up to the free visits scheme by next week.
A spokesperson for the Health Service Executive (HSE) said it could not provide figures for how many doctors had signed up so far.
However, she confirmed that in addition to doctors with existing medical card patients, the HSE had written to GPs who had other health sector contracts. It is understood these would include contracts to treat drug abusers.
A small number of doctors who have retired from the medical card scheme have been written to as they are still on the medical register. It is a matter for each individual GP to decide whether to take up the contract.
Meanwhile, Dr Andrew Mannion of the Donegal Medical Centre said all GPs in Donegal town were signing the contracts "under duress".
He said: "We feel compelled to sign the new contract as the HSE has threatened that if we do not, they will remove all our existing under-six medical card patients from our practices and assign them to a practice that has signed the new contract."
The doctors argue that this would lead to "untold hardship and uncertainty for our patients", who may have to travel a considerable distance to see a GP.
"It would lead to breakdown of the doctor-patient relationship that we have and break the continuity of care that we have traditionally provided as GPs," Dr Mannion said.
"We believe that the new contract is morally wrong. We believe that scarce resources should be provided to patients with the greatest medical and financial needs.
"We believe for example that none of our patients would like to see a healthy under-six child receive a medical card whilst a chronically ill eight-year-old does not."
He added that they want the Government to focus on helping the most vulnerable children.