Sunday 17 November 2019

Just one in five back free GP care for under-sixes

Chris Goodey chief executive of the National Association of GPs
Chris Goodey chief executive of the National Association of GPs
Eilish O'Regan

Eilish O'Regan

THE majority of people would prefer the Government to give more medical cards to people on low salaries than provide free GP visits for all under-sixes, a new poll has revealed.

The survey, carried out before Easter, reveals 51pc support more medical cards for the most financially hard-pressed.

Just 20pc are in favour of the plan to give free GP care to all under-sixes, regardless of how well-off their parents are.

The findings are revealed in a poll carried out by Amarach Research, commissioned by the National Association of General Practitioners (NAGP).

The new GP union has more than 1,200 members and is opposed to the under-sixes plan, deeming it unfair.

The poll reveals that 16pc would prefer to see all people over the age of 70 and older get a full medical card. This rises to 31pc among retired people.

Health Minister Leo Varadkar has said he hopes free GP visits will be in place for under-sixes and over-70s this summer. GPs will soon be offered a contract which they can accept or reject to provide the free visits to under-sixes.

The poll shows people's views are influenced by their age.

For instance, the eldest are more likely to favour full medical cards for the over-70s, while the "squeezed middle", 45- to 54 -year-old group want a relaxation in medical card income limits. The 24- to 44-year-olds, who are more likely to have young families, want free GP visits for the under-sixes.

Commenting on the findings, Chris Goodey, NAGP chief executive, said it means just one in five people support the under-sixes plan. Even among parents, only one in three voted in its favour.

"GPs are not in favour of the scheme. The public is not in support of the scheme. So why the Government is insistent on railroading it through is beyond me." he said.

"The NAGP said repeatedly the priority should be providing free health care to those most in need, be that medically or financially. The minister has summarily dismissed the concerns of doctors regarding the under-sixes proposal.

"We can only hope that the lack of public support for the initiative will finally convince the Government to abandon the scheme," he added.

The poll also shows widespread support for GPs providing expanded medical services and treatments. Separate research carried out last year showed the average cost of a GP visit is around €50, compared with €100 for being seen at a hospital emergency department. Overall just one in seven people are opposed to free healthcare for everyone. Men, the under-24s and people from higher socio-economic backgrounds are most opposed.

Mr Goodey said: "Providing more services within general practice is an obvious way to reduce hospital waiting times, and is the most equitable and cost-effective means of delivering care, particularly for patients who have a chronic disease such as diabetes or asthma.

"For a relatively small amount of Government investment, the benefits for patients, the Exchequer and our burgeoning hospital system would be considerable."

A spokesman for Mr Varadkar insisted the overhaul of the discretionary medical card system means more people are now likely to get one.

The introduction of free GP care for under-sixes and over-70s is a " first step" in eventually extending it to everyone, he added.

Irish Independent

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