THE Government's €37m plan to introduce free GP care for children under six took another blow as family doctors branded it "unworkable".
The major escalation in hostilities from doctors is a setback to junior health minister Alex White, who had hoped to avoid such confrontation.
The Irish Medical Organisation (IMO), on behalf of GPs, said that it "strongly condemned" the Government's continued refusal to negotiate with it about the proposed plan, which was announced in last October's Budget.
It warned the Department of Health that if it continued to proceed, it would "reserve all of its legal rights, including the right to take appropriate court action".
In its submission to Mr White, the doctors detailed a number of perceived flaws in the proposed contract.
The doctors criticised what they called the "absence of key information regarding key aspects of this initiative" including the demographic and medical evidence underpinning the basis for the plan.
The new contract will also force their members to become "bureaucrats rather than doctors", they say, and will mean a significant increase in their administrative workload.
The IMO also said last night that the new contract would seriously undermine the clinical independence of GPs, as well as requiring significant additional resources and expenditure in terms of infrastructure and staffing levels in GP surgeries.
The IMO is seeking recognition of the right to negotiate on behalf of GPs "to ensure that GPs are fully represented".
Mr White said in recent days that his door was open to "consultation" with doctors and that there was "no pre-condition to talks".
However, the IMO angrily responded, saying "consultation is not negotiation".
The IMO expressed "regret and disappointment" that Mr White failed to respond to its correspondence.
Speaking to the Irish Independent, Mr White last night said he "received a letter from the IMO at the end of last week and will be replying in detail next week".
Mr White came under some fire earlier this week when he said that applying a "nominal" fee to those using the free GP care may be necessary to avoid needless abuse of the scheme.
Meanwhile, the chief executive of the National Association of General Practitioners (NAGP), Chris Goodey, said parents were already demanding free GP care for young children.
It said GPs around the country were already encountering resistance from parents to paying for children under six for the GP service – despite the fact that they don't have a medical card.
Both the NAGP and the IMO have rejected the contract because they claim it will increase the number of GP visits per year by an extra million.
The NAGP recently conducted a survey of 720 GPs, which showed only 3pc of them would be willing to sign up for the contract.
This week, the contract was rejected out of hand.
"Priority in terms of healthcare must be given to the old and poor. This plan is simply daft," he said.