Government urged to supply free medical care for under fives


THE Government has been urged to provide free health care for all children up to the age of five. Dr Tom O'Dowd, Professor of General Practice at Trinity College Dublin, said that 100,000 of the 325,000 children in that age group were already using medical cards, so only an additional 225,000 would have to be covered.

Dr O'Dowd was speaking at the annual conference of the Irish College of General Practitioners in Waterford at the weekend.

Such a move, he said, would allow family doctors to introduce child health activities which are currently carried out by the community care programmes in the health boards. If child health care was located in general practice, administrative and other costs could be rationalised to provide cost effective care for the country's children, he said.

Dr O'Dowd also highlighted a recent report which revealed that 60 per cent of Dublin families with children had no GPs, while 26 per cent of the country's children were considered to be living in poverty, compared with 16 per cent in 1973. The relationship between poverty and ill health was well documented, he said.

Childhood was one of the most vulnerable areas of human life, Dr O'Dowd said, and there was extensive evidence to link childhood deprivation with problems in adulthood. He would like to see the State look after families just above the medical card threshold in a committed, systematic and fair manner.

Meanwhile, the chairman of the ICGP, Dr Michael Coughlan, said that under new guidelines for videoing patients any such recording must be strictly confined to the consultation and should not extend to the examination.

Among the guidelines, Dr Coughlan said, was a requirement for patients to be made fully aware that a video was being taken and to sign a form before and after it had been completed. Patients must also be told that the video would be used solely for developing consultation skills in young doctors and not for any other purpose. It would have to be destroyed after one year, he added.