Up to 80,000 children aged six and seven could benefit from free GP care this year, GPs involved in the expansion of free care announced today.
The delivery of free contraception to women aged 17 to 25 was also discussed during the Irish Medical Organisation’s (IMO) annual general meeting in Dublin.
The IMO GP committee heard approximately 130,000 children are in this age group, though about 50,000 already have health cards.
Children aged six and seven will see the roll-out of free care in the first year of what is planned as a three-year programme.
They will be followed by children aged eight and nine and the third year will see children aged 10, 11 and 12 able to avail of free care.
IMO GP industrial director Val Moran said he expects the youngest children in these three age-groups to begin receiving free care this year.
Also at the AGM health minister Stephen Donnelly said he wants this project to begin “as quickly as possible”.
GPs will also provide the free contraceptive programme, along with Well Women Centres, with the Government target being to have this in place within three months.
Mr Moran described this target as “ambitious” as negotiations on how this will work are still in the “very early stages”.
However, “a set number of consultations” will be included so initial consultations will be free as well as the fitting of long-acting reversible contraceptives.
Minister Donnelly addressed the AGM, and thanked all healthcare workers for their pandemic efforts.
He said GPs are at the core of the health service, but acknowledged the critical shortages found around the country, saying: “I recognise that General Practice is facing pressures. A growing and ageing population will require more care and more GPs.”
He said expanding free GP care to seven-year olds will start “as quickly as possible”.
Looking at hospitals he said: “Too many people were waiting too long before the pandemic and this has worsened because of Covid. We know these long waits can cause enormous distress, pain and discomfort to patients.”
The 29-hour wait in Cork University Hospital’s emergency department last month, almost twice the national average.reported this week elderly patients endured an average
Addressing the threat of industrial action facing patients and hospitals again next month as junior doctors ballot on working conditions, he said what junior doctors face is “unacceptable.”
He quoted doctors who described stressful working conditions, including one doctor who said: “I worked 10 hours on the floor and still left huge waits to be seen. I left destroyed and exhausted.”
The minister said he has written to the HSE asking them to engage with the doctors and he committed to addressing the challenges.
“And I have been assured that by them that they will work collaboratively with the Irish Medical Organisation to address these issues,” he said.
He is hopeful that industrial action could be avoided.
The health service was hit by two days of stoppages recently when talks with medical scientists broke down, leaving at least 30,000 patients missing out on care.
However, IMO CEO Susan Clyne said while they respect his commitment, the NCHDs are frustrated at serious contractual breaches and industrial action could not be put off by fixing smaller issues around the edges of their dispute.