Seven- and eight-year-olds to receive free GP care next year – Taoiseach
Doctors say agreement in place to start talks on extension, announcement is premature
Free GP care is already provided to children under the age of six. File photograph: Anthony Devlin/PA Wire
Taoiseach Leo Varadkar has pledged to offer seven- and eight-year-old children free GP care from next year, but doctors immediately warned that tough negotiations lie ahead.
In an unscripted remark, Mr Varadkar also told the Irish Congress of Trade Unions that prescription charges for patients with medical cards are to be reduced.
The changes, he told the Ictu biennial delegate conference in Dublin, will form part of efforts by the Government to improve workers’ non-pay benefits, such as health and welfare benefits.
Free GP care is already provided to children under the age of six and the Government has made no secret of its plans to extend this arrangement to children up to the age of 12 on a phased basis.
In his speech, the Taoiseach said the medical card changes for seven- and eight-year-olds will begin next year. However, senior health service figures subsequently said the plan is likely to cover children up to the age of eight.
Sources said the free GP scheme could subsequently be extended further to children under 10 and subsequently to under-12s.
However, doctors warned that it may be premature for the Government to start promising that a new GP scheme would be put in place from a specific date.
The Irish Medical Organisation (IMO) said that negotiations on the new initiative with the Government had not yet commenced.
The Government in recent weeks concluded a €210 million agreement with the IMO which involved the restoration of funding, cut from general practice during the austerity years, in return for co-operation with reforms and the introduction of new services for medical-card patients with chronic illnesses such as diabetes or cardiovascular conditions.
For its part in the deal the IMO agreed to drop its objection in principle to Government’s plans to extend free GP care to further age groups of children.
However, the introduction of an actual extension of the free GP scheme was to be subject to further talks.
An IMO spokesman said on Wednesday: “We have an agreement with the Government that we will participate in talks about the terms of any extension of free GP care, but we have not yet started those talks so it is premature to assume an outcome or a timeline for an outcome.”
Separately, the Government has also put in place plans for the development of dental care services for young children.