Varadkar hails free GP scheme for over-70s and under-6s as success
Some 9,000 more people over 70 have signed up for free GP care than originally forecast, according to new figures released by Health Minister Leo Varadkar.
It was estimated around 40,000 would be eligible when the scheme began in August - but around 49,000 are now signed up.
He said over 214,000 children under six have now signed up for free GP care and 2,242 doctors are providing the service,
He described the free scheme as highly successful.
The minister was appearing before the Joint Oireachtas Committee on Health where he was given a €660m supplementary estimate for 2015.
Another €65m is coming from a UK and Ireland bilateral healthcare reimbursement scheme.
The additional money is being targeted on a range of measures, including reducing waiting lists and A&E overcrowding.
It is also needed to bailout hospitals which are over-spent by €149m.
An additional €93m was needed for medical negligence payouts.
He said: "Additional payroll costs have been incurred including through the recruitment of some 2,300 additional acute hospital staff, of which significant numbers are frontline doctors and nurses."
Additional funding has allowed for the number of patients who no longer need to be in hospital to be reduced from 850 to 558 as of December 1, he added.
There is evidence of an easing of A&E overcrowding, he insisted.
"Further beds are due to open this month. We are headed in the right direction and must persist with the considerable efforts underway right across our health service."
The VHI is to give the HSE over €100m - a substantial portion of outstanding money due for treating private patients in public hospitals.
"Discussions are continuing between the HSE and other health insurers," he added.
In March €314m was outstanding from health insurers.
However, the minister was challenged by members of the committee who said waiting list targets are not being met.
The Government pledged that nobody would be waiting more than 18 months at the end of June for an operation or a specialist appointment.
Referring to discretionary medical cards he said there has been a big rise in the numbers of people with discretionary medical cards and recent figures suggested the number had reached around 100,000.
But the system of assessment is still fraught.
Mr Varadkar indicated the Fine Gael manifesto will include a proposal to introduce a new medicines reimbursement scheme. The existing system means some people pay nothing towards medicines no matter how wealthy they are.
There is the medical card scheme where people can pay up to €25 a month even though they can be extremely poor.
Others pay under the monthly Drugs Payment Scheme.
There should be a fairer scheme, he told the committee members.