Government plans free GP care for children up to the age of 12

New initiative part of €210 million deal with doctors reached this week

Taoiseach Leo Varadkar  and Minister for Health Simon Harris during an announcement regarding primary care. Photograph: Nick Bradshaw

Taoiseach Leo Varadkar and Minister for Health Simon Harris during an announcement regarding primary care. Photograph: Nick Bradshaw


Free GP care is to be introduced on a phased basis over a number of years to all children up to age 12, Taoiseach Leo Varadkar has said.

He said initially children aged six and seven would benefit next year.

It will then be extended in subsequent years to children aged eight and nine and then to children aged 10 and 11.

Children up to age six are already covered by an existing free family doctor scheme.

The move will follow on from the Government’s agreement last Friday with the Irish Medical Organisation of a new €210 million deal for general practice.

Speaking on Saturday, Mr Varadkar said the new deal would represent a 40 per cent increase in funding for general practice over the next three to four years.

He said some of this funding was, in effect, the restoration of funding cuts imposed during the recession.

He said in return GPs would sign up for some necessary reforms including more cost effective prescribing, waiting list validation and embracing new information technology.

The Taoiseach said under the new deal GP s could opt in to new chronic disease management programmes to treat patients with conditions such as diabetes, bronchitis and emphysema as well as heart disease. This new chronic disease management scheme will cost about €80million to implement.

The Government will also have to agree an additional fee for GP s to take part in the planned extended free treatment scheme for children.

However, the Taoiseach said he was confident that GP s would agree to participate.

Mr Varadkar said he believed the additional funding “will encourage more doctors to go into general practice and will provide new funding to develop practices and the services they provide”.

Minister for Health Simon Harris said the new agreement with the IMO was” a landmark day for the Irish health service”.

“For the first time we will see the structured care on a large scale of patients with chronic conditions in a primary care setting.

“I am delighted also that GPs will engage strongly with the exciting e-Health agenda which will enable safer, joined-up patient care and will also help the health service to greatly reduce the use of outmoded paper-based communications and record-keeping.”

Mr Harris said the new structured chronic disease management programme, which would come into operation in 2020, would benefit over 430,000 patients with medical cards and GP visit cards .

“GPs will also be paid to provide venesection for patients with haemochromatosis, which will mean that 8,000 GMS patients with this condition will no longer have to attend hospitals for therapeutic phlebotomy”, the Minister said.

Mr Harris said he did not think general practice would be swamped as a result of the extension of the free GP care scheme and the introduction of additional services.

He said the agreement involved a four-year programme. He said no-one was suggesting that all new services would come into effect overnight.

Mr Harris said the Government’s first priority was to stabilise general practice while ther would be new funding put in place to encourage GPs to opt into the provison of additional services.

Mr Varadkar said he anticipated that the increase in fees would encourage more GPs to stay in general practice. He said the Government was also increasing the number of training places while it had also raised the retirement age for those who wanted to continue working.

Mr Varadkar said that while the Slaintecare reform plan urged the Government to provide an additional 500,000 people per year with free GP care, he believed that would be “too fast” and would overwhelm general practice.