Leo Varadkar: Free GP care for under-sixes a significant step on road to universal health care
Published 11/04/2015 | 02:30
The agreement reached this week on GP care without fees for the under sixes and over 70s is a significant breakthrough. It is a major step forward in improving access, quality and affordability of health care in Ireland.
It also marks the most tangible step forward so far along the road to universal health care.
A lot of groundwork has been done in the past few years but this will be the most visible. I welcome the support for it from the ICGP, Asthma Society and Children's Rights Alliance.
From this summer, more than 300,000 children and senior citizens who currently have to pay to see their GP will no longer have to. This will mean real savings for pensioners and families. But it is about much more than that. The new enhanced service covers all children under six, including those who already have medical cards.
They will benefit from better management of asthma in general practice and preventative wellness checks. Adults of all ages can benefit from the new diabetes programme, meaning they will have their condition managed by the GP who knows them, rather than in the hospital clinic.
It will be a huge relief to many young families and pensioners, who work hard and have paid their taxes. It's right that they should get something back.
Registering your child will be a simple online process with no need to submit any documents or letters. The new service should commence by July 1. There will be an information campaign well before then.
Minister Kathleen Lynch and I believe that starting off with the youngest and the oldest groups in society is the right approach.
The problem with means- testing is that there are always people just above the financial threshold, no matter where you set it.
Or there are always people who won't satisfy the sickness test who are told to come back and apply again and again.
Even an Expert Group was unable to come up with a list of illnesses that should or should not qualify for a medical card, but we will continue to adjust the rules on discretion to take in common-sense cases.
Separately, better GP access to ultrasound and a pilot project to provide minor surgery at primary care will happen this year. If successful, they will be mainstreamed.
Meanwhile, we look forward to the start of talks in the near future on the new GP contract. In time, this should provide for a further expansion of GP care without fees, including other school-going children, in accordance with Government policy.
I also want to see further progress on chronic disease management. I want GPs to be able to do all that they are trained to do.
The Government is determined to commit more resources to health and primary care every year, keeping people well in the community, for as long as the economy is growing.
I know that a lot of GPs have endured years of cutbacks and I know it won't be easy to convince them all to sign up. But this is the widest extension in eligibility in health care since the first GMS contract almost half a century ago, and it's wider than the Mother and Child Scheme.
I want to thank the IMO for their leadership in coming to this agreement and I firmly hope all GPs sign up to this new improved and expanded primary care service.