GPs who shun under-six plan may lose patients

Legislation approved by Cabinet provides for the extension of free GP care to 240,000 children aged six and under

Alex White, Minister of State for Primary Care: following months of disagreement over what could be covered in negotiations, Mr White is now proposing “talks about talks” on how engagement might proceed. .Photograph: Alan Betson

Alex White, Minister of State for Primary Care: following months of disagreement over what could be covered in negotiations, Mr White is now proposing “talks about talks” on how engagement might proceed. .Photograph: Alan Betson

Thu, Apr 17, 2014, 12:53

Family doctors risk losing their existing under-six medical card patients if they fail to sign up to the Government’s plan to extend GP care to all under-sixes.

The legislation approved by Cabinet yesterday provides for the extension of free GP care to 240,000 children aged six and under, in keeping with a commitment made in Budget 2014.

However, the proposed legislative framework will cover all children, including those already holding medical cards. After the legislation is passed, GPs will be presented with a revised contract covering their provision of care for all children aged under six.

The approach taken, aimed at providing uniformity of legal protection for all children, is likely to anger doctors’ groups who have been sharply critical of the plan.

The Irish Medical Organisation yesterday described the target for passing the legislation by mid-year as “unachievable”.

Minister of State for Primary Care, Alex White, yesterday wrote to the IMO for a third time proposing a meeting between the sides.

Talks about talks
Following months of disagreement over what could be covered in negotiations, Mr White is now proposing “talks about talks” on how engagement might proceed. He will also address GPs at the IMO annual conference later this month.

The Health (General Practitioners Service) Bill, which gives effect to the Government’s plan, will be published later this month, before the Dáil resumes after the Easter recess. Mr White said he still hoped the legislation would be introduced by the summer

“I welcome today’s decision . . . as the first phase in the introduction of free GP care for the full population,” he said. “This is really good news for young families and it represents a significant milestone in the reform of our health services.”

Dr Ray Walley, chairman of the GP committee of the IMO, said the Government was approaching the issue of GP services with the “subtlety of a bull in a china shop”. It was “contemptuous” for the Cabinet to approve legislation without first entering discussions on its implications with the IMO.

Sinn Féin health spokesman Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin said the plan deserved a cautious welcome, provided it was a “definite step” towards the universal roll-out of free GP care.