Most GPs will agree to free care for under 6s - Varadkar
Health Minister Leo Varadkar remains "confident" that most doctors will sign up to provide free care for children under six, even though one group representing GPs has called for a total boycott of the scheme.
The long-running talks with GPs on a contract for the scheme have reached the crunch stage of how much the doctors will be paid. The scheme will include health checks to monitor a child's weight as well as special care for young patients with asthma.
The hope is that free care will be in place by the summer.
The difficulties in trying to get all GPs to sign up to new contracts heightened yesterday when the National Association of General Practitioners (NAGP) - which is not in talks but represents around 1,200 of the State's 2,200 GPs - said it will be calling on its members to boycott introduction of the measure.
Dr Michael McConville, a Cavan GP and member of the organisation's council, said its doctors are ethically bound to oppose the scheme which would see health inequalities worsen.
The NAGP wants more people in need to receive medical cards.
Dr McConville said: "Everyone of us has scores, if not hundreds, of patients on dangerously long waiting lists.
"We all have patients who have been denied a medical card or had it withdrawn despite real medical need."
Dr Ray Walley of the Irish Medical Organisation (IMO), which represents doctors at the talks, said discussions have now reached the "fee-setting stage" but he refused to say when agreement is likely.
When the contract is offered it will be legally up to each GP to decide if they want to reject it or accept it.
Mr Varadkar said: "Ultimately, GPs are self-employed contractors and it will be up to each individual GP to decide for themselves whether they want to sign up and provide this new enhanced primary care service.
"I firmly believe that we will never solve the problems in our hospitals if we do not invest more in prevention, primary care and social care so that people avoid getting very sick."