Harris says he wants to see extension of free GP care scheme to more children

Minister confirms Government ‘nearing conclusion’ on new accord with doctors

Minister for Health Simon Harris said he hoped to announce details of the new agreement with family doctors in the coming days. Photograph: Alan Betson

Minister for Health Simon Harris said he hoped to announce details of the new agreement with family doctors in the coming days. Photograph: Alan Betson

 

The Minister for Health Simon Harris has said he wants to see more children receive free GP care in the future.

Mr Harris said it was Government policy to extend the existing free service which covers children up to the age of six.

He confirmed the Government was nearing conclusion with family doctors on a new agreement.

However, he said the issue of extending the scope of the existing free GP care scheme was “an unfinished piece of work”.

Mr Harris said GPs had suffered a lot under financial emergency measures introduced following the collapse in the public finances. He said he hoped to announce details of the new agreement with family doctors in the coming days.

The Irish Times reported on Wednesday that the Government was close to reaching a three-part agreement with the Irish Medical Organisation (IMO) on foot of talks which have been underway for more than a year.

Overall the proposed new agreement could cost about €200 million over a number of years.

The agreement would involve the restoration of funding, cut from general practice during the austerity years, in return for co-operation with reforms.

Separately the deal would also see the introduction of new services for medical-card patients with chronic illnesses such as diabetes or cardiovascular conditions.

The proposed accord would see the IMO drop its objection in principle to the Government’s plans to extend free GP care to further cohorts of children, potentially up to age 12 .

However the implementation of any such extension of free GP care beyond the existing cut-off point of age six would require further negotiations and the Government would have to pay GPs more money to put in place such services.

The first element of the proposed deal would see the Government invest about €120 million up to 2022 to improve the financial stability of general practice which doctors have warned was close to collapse as a result of several rounds of cuts.

This additional money would come as part of a productivity arrangement and, in essence, would equate to the total sum removed from general practice under these cuts over recent years.

However under current proposals there would not be a “like-for-like” reversal of each individual cutback introduced under financial emergency legislation over the last decade. It is understood the parties have been looking at increasing capitation payments paid to doctors for caring for each individual patient on their list.

In return for this investment to improve financial stability GPs would, under the new proposals, agree to co-operate with structural changes in the health services such as the new regional health organisations and the introduction of new ehealth initiatives such as the unique health identifier for all patients.

It is understood the proposed agreement would not involve GPs providing additional hours of service for medical card patients.

In addition, the proposed accord would also provide for the introduction of new structured care by GPs of patients with conditions such as diabetes, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease and cardiovascular conditions. This could involve GPs seeing patients with such illnesses on a set number of occasions per year. There would be additional funding to GPs for this initiative which could cost more than €70 million.