75% of GPs set to join under-6 scheme by end of June

Three quarters of GPs are expected to have signed up to a scheme offering free care to more than 270,000 children aged under six by the end of the month. As demand from parents for online registration caused a system crash on day one, health chiefs said 62% of doctors have so far put their names down for the service.

75% of GPs set to join under-6 scheme by end of June

Health Minister Leo Varadkar predicted the figure will rise to over 75% by the time the free scheme starts on July 1.

Slow uptake in some areas has been shrugged off by Mr Varadkar, who described the radical reform as an investment in future generations. In South Tipperary, just 8% of GPs had signed up yesterday and 24% in Co Louth.

Figures were also poor in Limerick (34%) and Cork North Lee (36%). At the top end of the scale, Donegal led the way with a 94% sign-up rate among doctors.

Asked about the poor figures in her constituency, Kathleen Lynch, junior health minister with responsibility for primary care, said she believed people were “waiting and seeing”.

“I wouldn’t have any great concern around urban areas,” said Ms Lynch. “There would always be sufficient coverage there. There is a worry around the more rural areas, it doesn’t come as a surprise to us, we have been looking at this for a number of weeks.”

Mr Varadkar dismissed as “facile” suggestions that the new scheme is inequitable, giving as it does free care to under-sixes regardless of their health status, while older children with potentially greater need do not qualify.

“I think that argument’s a little bit facile,” he said. “We already have medical cards and GP visit cards based on low income and nearly 40% of the population, 1.7m people, already have access to their GP without fees based on low income.”

Mr Varadkar said the first day of parents registering their children for the scheme had gone well, with more than 10,000 signed up by the afternoon. In addition, 18 more GPs had signed the contract.

Mr Varadkar said they were appealing to GPs who had not signed up to “get on board — this train is leaving the station”.

While the Irish Medical Organisation supports the scheme, the National Association of General Practitioners is firmly against it, claiming it will increase workloads and encourage parents to unnecessarily bring children into surgeries for checks. Mr Varadkar said they would not be agreeing to the association’s request for an emergency meeting.

“The basis for an emergency meeting isn’t there. This is done, this is happening,” Mr Varadkar said.

Free GP care for under-sixes is the first stage in the provision of universal free GP care, with over-70s to be covered from early August and other age groups after the next election.

“I want us to get to a point where we no longer means test healthcare for children,” Mr Varadkar said.

The extension of the scheme to under sixes is estimated to cost €90m annually. Mr Varadkar said he is hopeful over 90% of GPs will have signed up by year end.

Accessing the scheme on www.hse.ie is straightforward with the child’s PPS number, gender and date of birth required along with the parent or guardian’s PPS number and contact details and the GP’s name. Parents have the next two weeks to register.

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