CONTROVERSIAL legislation to allow the introduction of free GP care for children under the age of six is to be approved by the Cabinet tomorrow, despite widespread opposition to it from doctors.
Up to 500 GPs are set to protest in Dublin on Wednesday against the plan, which they say has been drawn up "without any consultation".
The plan, which will cost €37m this year to deliver, was announced on Budget day last October. However, the Government, and particularly the Labour Party, is determined to plough ahead, despite concerns.
The National Association of General Practitioners (NAGP) said it is "appalled" that the Government is pressing ahead with the "completely unethical plan" for free care for under-sixes, when the elderly, ill, and poorer patients are losing their medical cards.
Speaking to the Irish Independent last night, junior Health Minister Alex White said he is "very conscious" of the concerns of GPs and that he is "hoping to get down to negotiations with them very soon".
Mr White has rejected claims by doctors that he and the Government have failed to engage with doctors on the plan.
"We published a draft in January, but there is considerable scope for revising and amending that draft. I have invited the IMO to meet me for discussion and negotiation," he said.
Mr White said: "There are constraints associated with competition law, but I think these should not be overplayed.
"There is still the opportunity for real engagement and, one hopes, agreement. If people want engagement and negotiation, they have a willing partner here."
Chris Godfrey of the NAGP has insisted there has still been no meaningful negotiation in respect of the resources necessary to provide the service.
"The vast majority of GPs have indicated that they will not sign up to this contract. This is for myriad reasons – ethical, moral, logistical and social," he said.
The IMO and the Competition Authority are heading for a showdown in the High Court next month.
The Competition Authority initiated legal proceedings against the IMO last year after it urged its GP members to withdraw certain patient services in protest at cuts to fees under the medical card contract.