Free care for children now a reality with over 55pc of all GPs signed up
From tomorrow no parent will ever have to worry about the cost of bringing a sick child to see a doctor, writes Kathleen Lynch
Published 14/06/2015 | 02:30
As a mother and a grandmother, I know what it's like to worry when a child falls ill.
And as a minister with the opportunity to deliver change for the better, I know something else - that no parent should have to worry about the cost of seeing a doctor when their child is sick.
That core principle is why the Government is introducing free GP care, starting with children under six.
From tomorrow morning, parents with a child aged under six will be able to sign them up for free doctor's visits (see www.gpvisitcard.ie).
The opening of the online registration process makes real our commitment to roll out free GP care, starting with the under-sixes.
The next stage will be free GP care for the over-70s - and we'll deliver that too.
Ireland has been through an immensely tough time since 2008, and people have suffered.
Labour's task, together with Fine Gael, was simple - to take the economy left in ruins by Fianna Fail and rebuild it.
The economic heavy-lifting has now been done - Ireland will record the fastest growth in the eurozone this year, having done the same last year.
But a country is more than its economy alone, important as that is.
It's a society too.
So recovery means not just more jobs and increased incomes, but improved public services that deliver for people and communities.
And free GP care is a perfect example of that.
The roll-out of this first phase is a seminal moment for primary care services in Ireland.
Through it, we will ensure that parents don't have to think twice about bringing their sick child to the doctor.
It wasn't easily achieved.
Changing the healthcare system for the better is an immensely difficult process.
I think people appreciate that, and I think people understand that securing agreement between the Department of Health, the Health Service Executive and the Irish Medical Organisation was very challenging.
But we did secure that agreement, and I want to thank all involved for their work in getting us to this point.
Because through this service, we will - together --make Ireland a better place for families.
Registration by GPs in the scheme has now passed the 55pc mark, and will rise further in the coming weeks.
In fact, that figure masks the excellent take-up already among GPs in counties such as Donegal (94pc), Roscommon (90pc), Galway (78pc), Longford and Westmeath (84pc).
So we're getting there, steadily and surely.
The bit I genuinely don't understand is how some people didn't want us to get there at all.
Fianna Fail, in particular, have implacably and inexplicably opposed this scheme. One Fianna Fail TD even went so far as to describe free GP care for under-sixes as "reprehensible, immoral and nauseating".
I genuinely don't understand that.
I don't understand how any public representative would decry the right of a family to ensure they can bring a young child to the doctor without worrying about the fee.
While others criticise, we will continue to take the necessary steps to provide excellent and universal health care for our people.
We are focusing in particular on primary care, which means people being treated in their local communities by their local clinics, local doctors and local nurses first.
We have delivered 44 new primary centre centres since 2011, with plans well advanced for many more.
We are rolling out community-based programmes to manage chronic illness such as diabetes and asthma for children.
And, of course, we are rolling out free GP care in phases.
Again, we are well advanced on this front.
The latest figures show that, at the end of May, more people than ever before are availing of free GP visits.
Dig down through the data and you'll see that three in every five people - a total of 1,897,726 - benefit from either a medical card or a GP Visit Card and therefore already have access to free GP care.
Our challenge now is to ensure that everybody else can benefit as well - and we'll achieve that.
Starting with our most precious resource - our children - and ensuring they get the care they need when they need it.
Kathleen Lynch is Minister for Primary and Social Care