Health Minister Leo Varadkar last night insisted negotiations for free care to children aged 6 to 11 would go ahead, with supports for rural doctors and the management of diseases at the centre of talks with doctors.
The negotiations though will delay extending free care for older children until at least September next year, said Irish Medical Organisation GP committee chairman Dr Padraig McGarry.
The IMO announced yesterday that there would be no extension of free care to under 12s until a new GP contract was completed, a situation recognised by Mr Varadkar at the budget when he announced the measure.
Doctors made the announcement after a face-to-face meeting with Mr Varadkar and junior health minister Kathleen Lynch on Thursday. Dr McGarry said: “There is no question of general practice being in a position to cope with a cohort of additional patients until such time as a new contract dealing with the needs of existing patients is completed.”
Dr McGarry said the new contract must be for existing patients and address matters such as chronic disease management, rural supports and additional services. He later told RTÉ “resources” were also at the centre of negotiations and free care for the under 12s would be delayed until at least September.
Free GP care is available to children under the age of 6 and adults over 70s. Mr Varadkar announced in the budget that it would be extended to those under 12.
The IMO and the Department of Health earlier this year agreed to complete negotiations on a new overall comprehensive GP contract by the end of next March.
Responding to the refusal by the IMO, Mr Varadkar said he was still optimistic about rolling out care for the under 12s, which he had suggested would be as late as the final months of next year.
“The Government remains committed to expanding free GP care to all children aged 6-11 in the next phase and clarified again that it is not intended to do this in the form of a standalone contract,” he said.
Following the talks this week with the IMO, the ministers also confirmed the extension of universal GP care to all children aged 6 to 11 would be subject to negotiation in relation to the scope of service to be provided and the fee arrangements to apply.
Mr Varadkar has already been given additional funding in the budget to extend free GP care next year.
Sources close to the minister last night stressed that he was supportive of resourcing primary care so facilities would help alleviate pressure from hospitals.