Government’s plan for free GP care criticised as ’political stunt’ by IMO
Union says plan not covered by agreements currently in place
The IMO has described the plan to give free GP care to all under 5s as a ‘political stunt’. Photograph: Bryan O’Brien/The Irish Times
MARTIN WALL, Industry Correspondent
The Government’s planned move to introduce free GP care for all children under the age of five smacks of a “political stunt”, the Irish Medical Organisation (IMO) has said.
The doctors’ trade union also said that the planned new service for young children was not covered by existing agreements and would have to be the subject of negotiations.
The chairman of the organisation’s GP committee Dr Ray Walley said the Government “is presiding over the widespread rationing of discretionary medical cards for people with long term illnesses and real medical needs and now it’s engaging in a stunt by extending these cards to tens of thousands of children in relatively wealthy families who by any measure do not need them”.
Dr Walley said that there was no medical evidence to back up the extension of medical cards to a wide category of the population.
“Income criteria remains the most effective way to capture needy groups and we believe this is a case of robbing Peter to pay Paul.
“The contrast between the harrowing experience of people having their discretionary medical cards withdrawn and young, healthy children from relatively well off families being given free medical care at GPs is striking.
“Where is our sense of morality gone that this stroke can be described as progress?”
Dr Walley also said the Government had not made any contact with GPs about the provision of the planned new service.
“This move is not covered by any existing contract between GPs and the HSE and will require negotiation yet no effort has been made to seek the views of those GPs who will be expected to deliver the service.”
Currently young children who are not covered by the medical card or the GP card schemes are considered as private patients.
The plan by the Government to offer free GP cards to children under the age of 5, which is expected to be announced in the Budget on Tuesday, would impact on existing private practice income for many family doctors.
The prospect of a deal between the Government and the IMO on the planned new free GP scheme for young children is complicated by the position of the Department of Health and the HSE that it cannot negotiate with the trade union on fees to apply for GPs under competition law.
GPs are not employees of the health service but rather are independent contractors.