| 15.5°C Dublin

'Free' GP care will come with a fee for every doctor's visit

HEALTH Minister Leo Varadkar is planning a small fee for every visit to the doctor under his free GP care plan - to prevent abuse of the system and clinics being overwhelmed.

The fee has yet to be set, but would act similarly to the prescription charge, which serves as a deterrent to patients getting unneeded medicines.

But the fee would not apply to patients already on a medical card or a GP-only medical card.

The free GP scheme is being rolled out for the under-sixes, followed by the over-70s.

But these categories are also expected to be exempt from any fee. From there, the Government plans to extend the scheme to primary and secondary school children.

Ultimately, the entire population will be covered. But the minister has not put a timescale on everybody having free GP care.

Talks are continuing with the doctor's unions and the Irish Medical Organisation about the free GP care.

Mr Varadkar's spokesman said the details had yet to be finalised on the size of the fee.

"No decision at all has been taken on this matter. Talks are continuing with the IMO.

"We want to ensure that anyone with health concerns can access GP services. We are especially aware that the under-sixes and over-70s have particular needs.


"But we do not want services to be overwhelmed and we don't want people with legitimate concerns to find that GP services are struggling to cope.

"That may require a very modest charge but no final decision has been taken on that matter," the spokesman said.

Ireland is unusual as three in five of the population do not have access to GP or primary care as part of the 
State's healthcare system.

Nominal fees have been used in other countries which provide universal GP care.

The possibility of a small fee was first suggested by former Junior Health Minister Alex White and others.

Last week, Mr Varadkar said he was delaying the introduction of the Government's controversial plan to reform the health insurance system and end the two-tier service.

But the Health Minister said free GP care remains a priority, but he separated the universal health care aspects from Universal Health Insurance.

"Personally, I think we need to get Universal GP and Primary Care right and show people that it works," he said.