Deal on free GP care for U-6s follows 81% payment hike

Doctors agreed a deal allowing free GP care for under-6s after the Government increased its payment by €30m to €67m — an 81% increase, it emerged yesterday.

Under the agreement, capitation fees for children under the age of six will be €125, up from the €68.65 currently received. Extra payments and supports brings the price to €216.

An additional 270,000 under-6s will will get free GP care under the deal announced after months of negotiation and ahead of the Irish Medical Organisation’s conference in Kilkenny.

Chairman of the IMO’s GP committee and incoming president of the organisation, Dr Ray Walley, said they had “stopped the cycle of cutbacks” and started bringing new resources into general practice.

There cannot be a vote by doctors on the issue because doctors are independent operators.

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Dr Walley said while it was a matter for individual GPs whether to accept the terms offered in the contracts, the IMO that has around 5,000 members would be recommending the scheme.

However, the National Association of General Practitioner pointed out that its 1,200 members had been excluded from the negotiations and needed time to examine the agreement.

The NAGP had called on all GPs to refuse to sign the contract, regardless of the payment offered. It believes patients who are most vulnerable should be given priority.

The agreement includes enhanced asthmatic services to under-6s and a dispute resolution procedure for the scheme.

A new diabetic “cycle of care” contract is being introduced, a first step towards introducing chronic care into general practice, with a registration fee of €30 and €100 for two annual visits.

There will be free GP care for the over-70s estimated at €18m in a full year but there is no change in GP fees for this new service that will benefit 36,000 people not covered by a medical card or GP visit card.

Health Minister Leo Varadkar said that from this summer up to 300,000 children and older people would no longer have to pay to see their GP.

Minister for Primary Care, Social Care and Mental Health, Kathleen Lynch, said she would be happy if 80% of GPs accepted the terms offered in the agreement but was hoping that it would get 100% support.

Ms Lynch said contracts would be given to the GPs within the next two weeks and expected to have GPs registered in June.

The contract is an interim contract while the replacement of the 40-year-old general medical services contract is being negotiated. Negotiations on the GMS contract, expected to take a year, started last month.

The Asthma Society of Ireland said it saw the inclusion of asthma management of the under-6s as a first step towards the implementation of the programme for everyone with asthma.

The Irish College of General Practitioners, who gave a cautious welcome to the deal, expressed concern that free under-6s care might reduce GP accessibility.

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