Harris aims to increase number of children with free GP care

National Treatment Purchase Fund to begin endoscopy outsourcing plan this month

Minister for Health Simon Harris has said he hopes to expand the number of children covered by free GP care next year.

The scale of any extension and the particular age groups to be covered remain matters for negotiation with doctors, with the current scheme covering children under the age of six.

“The Minister wants to work with GPs and address their concerns. This will all be done in a negotiated manner,” a spokeswoman for Mr Harris said.

The Irish Medical Organisation (IMO) on Friday told its members that it was not in talks with the Government about extending the number of people covered by a free GP care scheme, which it said was "not a priority".


A new GP contract is a key goal for the Government. However, the IMO indicated that a new deal would be implemented on a phased basis only.

The doctors’ trade union said there would be no new overall contract for the provision of GP services negotiated with the Government this year, and that “there can be no new initiatives without new and significant funding”.

Endoscopy tests

Meanwhile, Mr Harris also announced that about 700 patients who were currently waiting for diagnostic endoscopy tests in public hospitals would undergo the procedure in the private sector under an initiative run by the National Treatment Purchase Fund (NTPF). He said €700,000 is to be provided to pay for the service.

There are at present more than 18,500 people on the waiting list for gastrointestinal endoscopies in public hospitals .

“I am determined to use the NTPF and capacity in the private system to get patients off waiting lists,” he said. “We have a rising demand for endoscopy procedures in this country and this important new NTPF initiative will increase the number of these procedures that can be carried out over the coming months. Under this €700,000 initiative the NTPF expects to provide an endoscopy procedure to an extra 700 of the longest-waiting patients.”

The Minister said the NTPF was preparing to roll out the initiative, “with outsourcing to begin this month”.

The Department of Health said that under the plan the NTPF would pay for public patients to have the tests carried out in private hospitals.

“The NTPF will work with public hospitals to ensure that the hospitals validate their waiting lists; identify patients who will continue to be treated by the public hospital; and then identify those patients who will be offered outsourcing of their procedure to a private hospital.”

Meanwhile, nurses have called on the Government to increase the number of public hospital beds, to increase the nursing and midwifery workforce by 25 per cent over five years, and to invest more in publicly-funded care services for older people.

It its pre-budget submission the Irish Nurses and Midwives Organisation also urged the Government to " allocate funds to introduce improved pay and conditions to reflect the competitive international labour market for Irish nurses and midwives at this time".

Martin Wall

Martin Wall

Martin Wall is the former Washington Correspondent of The Irish Times. He was previously industry correspondent