Free GP care on offer to 200,000 more children under 12 years of age from October next year
AROUND 200,000 children between the ages of six and twelve years of age are being promised free GP visits from October next year as part of the Government's health package.
Some €10m has been allocated for the extension of free GP visits to this age group - subject to sealing a new contract with family doctors to provide a range of expanded State-funded services.
Talks are currently underway with their union, the Irish Medical Organisation (IMO) to modernise services provided under the medical card and other State schemes.
Health Minister Leo Varadkar and Social Care Minister Kathleen Lynch said they have around €40m in all to fund this expansion of GP services to include not just the free visits for the under-12s but also more care of patients with ongoing illnesses who might otherwise attend hospital.
This would benefit a range of adult patients with medical card and GP visit cards.
The roll out would be in the last quarter of the year.
Although the IMO is understandably playing hardball rhetoric the reality is that a modernised contract is the only way forward if many of doctors under financial pressure want to generate more income.
Ms Lynch said talks on the new deal have progressed significantly but the capacity of doctors to deliver the additional services will be key.
However, she said for GPs the benefit is guaranteeing them an income as part of wider primary care teams.
Free GP visits were given to an extra 270,000 under-sixes during the summer although not all parents have yet taken it up. The promise is to eventually extend to all under-18s.
Mr Varadkar said the biggest users of GP services would be under sixes and the six to twelve year age group would not have a high visit rate.
The National Association of General Practitioners, the rival doctors' union which will not be invited to negotiations, said planning to give free visits to another age group of children without addressing the crisis in general practice was "a recipe for disaster".
Spokeswoman Dr Yvonne Williams warned an impact report must be carried out on free GP care for the under-sixes and under-70s before any other age groups are added. Otherwise the Government is "flying blind," she added.
Mr Varadkar said the health budget for 2016 would allow GPs more direct access to scans for their patients who need to have symptoms checked. The difficulties faced by GPs in the west in particular in getting speedy scans was highlighted by the Irish Independent.
It also aims to allow more GPs to do minor surgery procedures and a pilot testing how this can be carried out safely is currently underway.
The promise is to also recruit more speech and language therapists and occupational therapists to ease the long delays in the public system for these therapies.
Around 180 nurses with an interest in disability are graduating this year and the hope is they will stay here to work.