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Health Minister Leo Varadkar.

Health Minister Leo Varadkar.

Health Minister Leo Varadkar.

FAMILY doctors are to begin talks with the Department of Health to draw up a new contract to cover the introduction of free GP care for under-sixes and the over-70s.

The doctors are paid by the State to provide care to people with medical cards and GP visit cards as well as provide services such as childhood vaccinations.

The discussions, starting next month, will also cover these services. Doctors insist the medical card contract, which is 40 years old, does not reflect modern day demands.

Health Minister Leo Varadkar is anxious to secure agreement from GPs to treat the under-sixes and over-70s for free. However, the doctors will be pressing for State fees to compensate for the lack of private income.

The Irish Medical Organisation (IMO) said yesterday the discussions will go beyond the roll-out of free care and also extend to securing a modern contract covering medical cards and other services.

They want more State investment to support GP practices and ease the financial pressures which cause doctors to emigrate.

IMO GP spokesman Dr Ray Walley said that the agreement to start discussions on a complete new GP contract was critical to sustaining and developing general practice in Ireland.

"A new GP contract is badly needed. The current system of general practice is starved of resources. Our patients are suffering."

The union will be demanding increased resources and sustainable funding after suffering cuts of over €160m in recent years.

"The best way to tackle inequalities in health is to introduce GP Care on an income and chronic disease basis in an planned way over a number of years."

The doctors cannot negotiate due to competition law and Mr Varadkar will ultimately set fees.

GPs are to hold a demonstration outside the Dail next week to highlight the pressures they face and patient risks.

Irish Independent