Registration for free GP care for over-70s begins

Almost 40,000 older people can now apply for free doctors’ visits under health scheme

Minister of State at the  Department of Health Kathleen Lynch. Photograph: North West Newspix

Minister of State at the Department of Health Kathleen Lynch. Photograph: North West Newspix

 

Almost 40,000 older people can register from today for free doctor visits as the next stage of the Government’s free GP scheme is rolled out.

The provision of free GP care to all over-70s, which starts next Wednesday, is going ahead despite a last minute legal issue raised by the Irish Medical Organisation (IMO).

The IMO says it sought clarification on aspects of the legislation underpinning the new service to over-70s.

These relate to concerns that the new measures could affect existing prescribing by GPs to patients who already have full medical cards.

The Department of Health, while not accepting the concerns raised by the IMO, has agreed to amend the Health (General Practitioner Service) Act, which was passed by the Oireachtas earlier this year to enable the over-70s scheme to go ahead.

The IMO says it has received confirmation that all existing medical card patients aged 70 and over will remain in the general medical services (GMS) scheme and will retain an entitlement to the services, such as prescribed medicines, under that scheme.

While commonly referred to as the over-70s scheme, the new service will apply to anyone aged 70 and over who is ordinarily resident in the State.

It will cost €18 million a year.

As with the provision of free GP care for under-6s, application for the scheme is by way of the gpvisitcard.ie website.

A printed registration form will also be available in pharmacies and local health offices.

Applicants will qualify for a GP visit card. This covers out-of-hours and home visits, but does not cover the cost of drugs or follow-on treatment.

The vast majority of older people already have a medical or GP visit card on income grounds.

Universal healthcare

Minister for Health Leo Varadkar described the new scheme as the next step to universal healthcare.

“It’s an important step because, for the first time, the eldest and youngest in our society will be able to access GP care without being charged.”

Minister of State for Primary Care Kathleen Lynch said free GP care would be expanded to all children under 18-years and services would be strengthened in early intervention, minor surgery and the managing of chronic illnesses.

Patients have to register and be accepted by a GP before they can avail of services under the scheme.

Where a patient’s doctor has a current GMS contract, he or she does not need to change GP.

Where this is not the case, or in cases where a GP is not accepting further registrations, the patient will have to find another GP.

The HSE says it will assign a GP to patients where they have been turned down by three GPs.

The under-6s scheme, which encountered initial heavy opposition from GPs, now enjoys 89 per cent doctor participation, according to the latest HSE figures.

In Co Roscommon, 100 per cent of GPs have signed up and in south Tipperary, where opposition was strongest, 94 per cent of doctors have now signed up.

The lowest participation is in Dún Laoghaire, Co Dublin, at 76 per cent.

So far, 146,500 children have been registered by their parents for the scheme.