More delays in rollout of free visits by GPs for children aged under 12
Free GP care to children under 12 has been delayed indefinitely, despite a promise to extend the scheme two years ago.
The extension of free GP visits to older children, as a follow-on to the scheme for under-sixes, was originally supposed to be in place at the end of last year.
However, Health Minister Simon Harris yesterday said he could not say when it would be introduced.
"I want to see the issue of free GP care addressed. It has to be done in a negotiated, agreed way," he said.
"GPs are telling me they are already under pressure.
"We have to look at what we can do to support and resource GPs."
Talks are under way on drawing up a new medical card contract and the first phase of this should be clear at the end of the year.
The increased fees paid to GPs for free visits by under-sixes has boosted the State earnings of many family doctors, despite the overall number of people with medical cards falling.
Figures obtained by the Irish Independent under the Freedom of Information Act showed 2,900 GPs in the medical card scheme shared about €543m in fees and practice supports last year.
Under the under-sixes deal, GPs are paid a fee of €125-a-year per child, as well as other financial top-ups for asthma care.
However, many doctors have warned that their surgeries and out-of-hours services are under severe stress as high numbers of children who are entitled to free visits are clogging up their lists with minor complaints.
Figures showed 36 GPs earned more than €500,000 in fees and allowances under the medical card and GP visit card scheme last year.
The top individual earners were Tallaght GPs Dr Andy Jordan, who received €952,185, and Dr Andrew Coady, who got €791,273. Dublin north inner city GP Dr Austin O'Carroll's practice generated an income of €789,115.
Dr Jordan is chair of the National Association of General Practitioners. The organisation said the payments were not to an individual doctor but were used to run a practice which can involve several GPs and other staff.
Dr O'Carroll employs nine GPs as well as support staff. He has had to take on extra doctors to service additional clinics catering for the homeless.
The payments show Fianna Fáil senator Dr Keith Swanick, from Mayo, got payments of €472,010. Independent TD Dr Michael Harty, from Clare, who is also chair of the Oireachtas Health Committee, got €274,827. The current GP leader in the Irish Medical Organisation, Dr Padraig McGarry, had payments totalling €352,630.