Rules on free GP care for under-sixes revealed 'in weeks'
Legislation proposing free GP care for the under-sixes is to be published shortly despite no negotiations taking place on the draft contract rejected by doctors.
Junior Health Minister Alex White told the Irish Independent that the legislation will be published within weeks and that its measures will come into effect in early summer.
But so far the Irish Medical Organisation (IMO) has refused an invitation to negotiate the terms of the proposed contract because it does not include any direct talks on fees.
Although the union previously warned that it would take legal action in a bid to prevent the Government proceeding with the contract, this has not materialised and it was unable to say yesterday if it would go ahead with the threat.
All GP organisations have condemned the draft contract terms, saying it contained a range of flaws which would deter doctors from signing up to the scheme.
IMO GP spokesman Dr Ray Walley said yesterday they were repeating a demand for urgent, comprehensive negotiations on the minister's plans for all patients, not just under-sixes.
Mr White said that he intended to write again to the IMO and this was expected to include another invitation to face-to-face talks which could not include any negotiations on fees.
Questioned on its progress yesterday, Health Minister James Reilly said he would be surprised if the final contract offered to GPs would be the same as the draft version.
Meanwhile, Mr White, in a parliamentary reply, said research by the Department of Health suggested that fee-paying children currently were brought to the doctor 2.7 times a year.
Children under six whose visit is free due to a medical card attend a GP around 3.1 times a year. Doctors insist that if the service is free, the rate of visits will increase.
Commenting on claims that GPs were leaving Ireland due to the difficulties felt by general practitioners, Mr White said that at the end of last year there were 2,840 family doctors here, in contrast to 2,562 in 2011 and 2,270 at the end of 2010.