Friday 24 November 2017

GPs to be asked to sign up to free visits for under-sixes from June

The long-awaited promise of free GP care for all 240,000 children under six has moved a step closer Picture posed/THINKSTOCK
The long-awaited promise of free GP care for all 240,000 children under six has moved a step closer Picture posed/THINKSTOCK

Eilish O’Regan Health Correspondent

The long-awaited promise of free GP care for all 240,000 children under six has moved a step closer under a new €67m offer to family doctors.

The hope is that  free GP visits for all over-70s  will also be ready for rollout this summer.

The Irish Medical Organisation (IMO), which opens its annual meeting today,  said under the contract for under-sixes care family doctors would get fees of around €216 per child when all additional payments are added up.

This is made up of a basic annual capitation fee of €125 as well as extra payments for taking on other services such as the care of young asthmatic patients.

The Government is spending €67m on more GP services in a bid to win the doctors’ support - up from the €37m originally promised.

The hope is that most of the country’s 2,400 GPs will agree to provide the free visits from this summer in return for an additional State fee.

However, it is still unclear how many GPs will sign the contract and it is a matter for each individual doctor to decide  if they want to be part of the free scheme.

However, there is huge opposition to the under-sixes proposals from GP ranks who are objecting to the extra workload at a time when many are already struggling to maintain their practice after cuts in State fees for the medical card scheme.

The newest doctors’ union, the National Association of General Practitioners (NAGP), which represents over 1,200 GPs, is strongly opposed to the under-sixes scheme.

A recent poll commissioned by the NAGP found just one in five of the public supports giving free visits to under-sixes first and more are in favour of relaxing the income limits for a medical card.

The HSE is expected to issue contracts for the under-6 service to GPs in the next three weeks.

Patient registration could start next month with the service starting by the end of June.

Free GP care for all over-70s could also start at the same time, provided the required legislation is passed by the Oireachtas in time.

About 36,000 over-70s (out of a total over-70s population of 390,000) currently pay to attend a family doctor as they are not covered by a medical card or an existing GP visit card.

Nothing will change for any over-70s who already have, or are eligible for, medical cards, as they will continue to receive all of their entitlements.

The Coalition's new deal, following the local and European elections and Tánaiste Joan Burton's succession of Eamon Gilmore as Labour Party leader, restated the commitment to introduce free GP care for the entire population.

The Government has put the under-sixes and over-70s at the top of the queue for universal GP care.

The Health (General Practitioner Medical Service) Bill will provide for a GP service to be made available without fees to everyone over 70.

The over-70s negotiations were more straightforward as it involved a smaller number of patients and there was already an agreement in place for elderly patients who already have free GP care and medical cards.

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