MINISTER for Health James Reilly has said that the government is ‘committed’ to providing free universal primary care for the entire nation within the next three years.
“That’s absolutely the commitment of the government,” he told RTE Radio 1 earlier today, reiterating that this goal will be achieved before the spring of 2016.
So far, the ambitious health initiative has only extended as far as the removal of fees for GP care for those aged five and under.
But the minister remains adamant that every man, woman and child in Ireland will be able to avail of these services for free - and within a three year timeframe.
“I am saying that every citizen in this country will have free GP care. That is the goal of this government,” he said.
However, he added he could not predict every “pothole” that may arise along the way to rolling out this initiative.
And the GP Committee of the Irish Medical Organisation has criticised the announcement. Dr Ray Walley, Chairman of the GP Committee, said there was “no hope” of meeting this target.
He said; “this is government by sound-bite. The Department of Health have no plan to support this objective and no appreciation of the resources required to implement it.”
Dr. Walley said that the key question in respect of free GP care was “who will pay for it?".
“Politicians talk up free GP care as if its free for everyone but the reality is that people will still pay for their GP but will simply do so indirectly through their taxes or through an insurance scheme instead of directly as at present.”
The announcement of free GP for young children in Budget 2014 already caused some controversy last month.
It came as a number of health savings measures were introduced that included increased prescription charges and reduced income thresholds for the over-70s medical card.
Dr Reilly, who is under huge pressure to deliver up to €1bn in health cuts, has joked recently that he wanted to change the department's nickname from "Angola", due to the many landmines there, to "East Anglia" by bringing it to a state of calm.
Minister Reilly has indicated that he is giving the HSE more time before they have to supply him with the service plan for 2014.
- Louise Kelly