Plans for free GP care for children under 12 faces delay
The extension of free GP care to 200,000 children between the ages of six and 12 at the end of the year has been thrown into serious doubt.
Former Health Minister Leo Varadkar announced in 2015 that GP visit cards would be given to this age group from around October this year.
However, Dr Padraig McGarry, spokesman for GPs in the Irish Medical Organisation, said this was always contingent on agreeing a new contract for GPs involved in the wider medical card scheme.
But the negotiations on this contract have not begun - and no date has been given for their commencement, he said.
GPs already provide free visits to 270,000 children under six, following the start of the scheme in mid-2015.
It led to a surge in visits over the winter, leaving many GP surgeries struggling to cope.
Dr McGarry said that GPs made it clear last year that they would not take on another group of older children unless there was a new contract agreed.
"We don't take on unresourced work," he added.
He said as a union it does not support giving free GP care to patients based on age rather than income and medical need.
A new contract is needed for a modern medical card scheme and other State services delivered by family doctors.
Health Minister Simon Harris has previously indicated the other GP organisation, the National Association of General Practitioners (NAGP), will be involved in the contract talks.
However, Dr McGarry said there is no mandate from the IMO to be involved in negotiations with the NAGP.
A potential turf war between the two doctors' organisations could also delay the start of these talks.
Around €10m was allocated in last year's Budget to provide free GP visits to children aged six to 12 years.
However, at that point it was envisaged that the new medical card contract would be finalised by summer 2016.
The delay is yet another setback in the promise to deliver universal healthcare to the public .
Dr McGarry yesterday called on the Government to keep its pledge to begin the phased reduction in the prescription charge for medical card holders.
He expressed disappointment at reports that this will not go ahead in this Budget.
He warned the €2.50 per item charge is causing some medical card holders financial hardship to the point where they are rationing medicines with serious implications for their medical conditions.
The organisation wants the Budget to increase tobacco prices by €1, generating around €135m for the Exchequer.
Around 15pc of our overall health spending is currently financed through out-of -pocket payments.
Even when these are low, it has been found they deter patients from treatment - which can lead to delayed diagnosis and increased chance of ending up in an overcrowded hospital.