Under-6s scheme will mean extra 77 visits per GP

Legislation providing for the provision of medical cards to all young children is due to come before Cabinet today, and is expected to become law by the summer. Photograph: Getty Images

Legislation providing for the provision of medical cards to all young children is due to come before Cabinet today, and is expected to become law by the summer. Photograph: Getty Images

Tue, Apr 15, 2014, 01:00

Paul Cullen, Health Correspondent

Extending free GP care to under-6s will result in only a modest rise in the workload of the average GP, according to a study of almost 20,000 children.

The study, based on data available through the Growing Up in Ireland project, appears to contradict claims by the Irish Medical Organisation that surgeries will be “overwhelmed” by child patients should free care be extended to under-6s.

Legislation providing for the provision of medical cards to all young children is due to come before Cabinet today, and is expected to become law by the summer.

The measure would result in an increase of just 77 consultations per GP per year, according to the study by the Department of Public Health and Primary Care in Trinity College. However, for doctors with a high proportion of private patients, the increase in consultations would be higher.

“This figure surprised us, and it’s fair to say that most people would assume public patients go to the doctor more often than private patients,” said Prof Tom O’Dowd, one of the authors of the study and a GP himself. “However, when a child is unwell, parents will take him or her to the doctor, no matter what the cost or inconvenience.”

According to the research, among babies at nine months, private patients attended an average of 2.4 times a year, while public patients had 3.3 attendances. At three years, there were 2.2 attendances by private patients and 3.1 attendances by public patients.

At three months of age, 82 per cent of boys and 79 per cent of girls had attended a GP. This fell to 81 per cent and 79 per cent respectively at age three years, and 41 per cent and 43 per cent by the time the children reached the age of nine years.

A separate study published in the current edition of the Irish Medical Journal found that children who were public patients attended the doctor five times a year, compared to children attending privately, who had just two consultations annually. It predicted an extra 750,000 GP consultations a year as a result of the Government’s proposals.

This research relied on surgery records rather than parents’ recollections, but was based on just six GP practices.