Confusion over registration for under-six care
CONFUSION reigns over how parents of 270,000 children under six will register for free GP visits, it emerged yesterday.
The countdown to delivery is already under way as the Government is promising free GP visits for this age group by mid-July, with parents forced to register with the Health Service Executive (HSE) in advance.
Yet the huge bureaucratic exercise of processing registrations in just a few weeks will prove a major test for the HSE section already struggling to cope with applications and renewals of regular medical and GP visit cards.
It was confirmed yesterday that the HSE will be setting up a website for registration but it is unclear what kind of information will be needed to establish the child's eligibility.
It follows a deal agreed with the Irish Medical Organisation (IMO) to extend free GP visits to an additional 270,000 under-six-year-olds as part of a €67m deal. A spokesman for the Department of Health confirmed the HSE was planning to begin patient registration in the last few weeks of May using an online facility, with parents notified in advance.
Dr Ray Walley, incoming president of the IMO, said it will be up to each GP to decide if they want to sign up the scheme but the union is to embark on a series of meetings around the country to inform doctors about the details of the contract.
Health Minister Leo Varadkar, who will address the IMO annual meeting in Kilkenny today after GPs debate the new proposals, has acknowledged that a "lot of GPs are disgruntled after years of cutbacks."
Mr Varadkar has also acknowledged that it won't be easy to convince medics to sign up but he said they would be doing the right thing for patients.
Writing in today's Irish Independent, Mr Varadkar said: "This is, after all, the widest extension in eligibility in health care service since Erskine Childers brought in the first GMS contract almost half a century ago and wider than the Mother and Child Scheme before that."
Dr Walley said the contracts to GPs could be issued in May and it is expected registrations will be in place by July.
"Registration details have yet to be hammered out," he said. HSE computers are expected to be linked up with those of GPs.
He described the feedback he has received as "positive". "The negotiators believe it is a good contract. We brought it to our GP national committee. It was unanimously supported.
"We believe it is a viable contract. It is only a first step in bringing resources back to general practice."
Many doctors have already warned the under-sixes will put major pressure on their workload and affect the time they give to older and sicker patients. The Government also hopes to bring in free GP visits for all remaining 36,000 over-70s who currently pay out of their own pocket, with a separate deal for diabetes sufferers.