Harris and union at odds on free care for under-12s
Health Minister Simon Harris said he is still "hopeful" that free GP care can be extended to 200,000 children under 12 next year - even though doctors insist the issue has not even been discussed in long-running talks.
Mr Harris said there would be more funding for GPs in next week's Budget. But it now looks like this will be used for the phased expansion of more care in the community for patients with long-term illnesses to reduce their visits to hospital.
Speaking about the extension of free GP care to children aged six to 12 - which was supposed to be in place a year ago - the minister said yesterday it was his "hope to roll it out next year".
He said, however, that any negotiation takes two parties and he is currently in talks with GPs about a new contract, which he hoped would be ready to phase in at the start of next year. He acknowledged that GPs needed to be better resourced to deliver more care.
However, it now appears the Irish Medical Organisation (IMO), the doctors' union, is taking a hardline stance that could delay the agreement of a new contract, including the extension of free GP care.
The union wants the 38pc cut in GPs' funding from the State for treating medical card holders and other services, imposed during the recession, to be reversed. The IMO has said there will be no contract agreed by the end of the year.
Members were told by the executive in recent days that it is not in talks about the extension of free GP care, which it did not regard as a "priority."
GP surgeries in many areas of the country, particularly rural parts, have been hit by a shortage of doctors due to emigration and retirement.