Summer date for free GP care despite doctors’ fears

The Government has ramped up the pressure on doctors over health service reform plans by insisting free GP care for children under six and the elderly will be introduced by summer.

The target date for free over-70s and under-sixes care was confirmed at a cabinet meeting yesterday, despite the fact just one of the policies has been negotiated with doctors’ unions.

While the policies will assist in freeing up hospital services, the Irish Medical Organisation has repeatedly raised concerns about overloading doctors.

Negotiations on the over-70s measure, which is expected to provide 36,000 more elderly people with free care, are now complete, and the policy simply needs the relevant legislation to be enacted before it is introduced.

However, while the Government wants to begin its free care for under-sixes policy at the same time, the issue remains mired in difficult doctor talks, with an IMO spokesperson saying it remained “clearly involved in negotiations” which have yet to end.

The issue is further complicated by the fact the National Association of General Practitioners — which is not party to negotiations — represents a significant minority of GPs, and is vehemently opposed to the issue on the same grounds.

Meanwhile, a fresh row is brewing over revelations the National Maternity Hospital in Holles St is still paying top-ups to senior officials.

Speaking at the Oireachtas health committee, the HSE interim HR director, Ian Tegerdine, confirmed the hospital is still paying the extra funds to three senior staff, believed to be in finance, nursing, and general management.

He said the facility, which is the only group to still provide top-ups, could now be hit with fines or have their State funding withheld.

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