The National Association of General Practitioners has warned that introducing free primary care for the under-fives without adequate resources in place will mean that patients will have to wait longer to see a GP.

Chief Executive of the NAGP, Chris Goodey said the association would welcome free GP care for the under-fives if the resources were there to fund such a move — but they were not.
He has predicted that the Government’s free care plan would double the workload of doctors who simply do not have the time or resources for a plan like this to work.

Lack of consultation with GP groups

“I find it quite amazing that the Government are planning to introduce free care for a section of the population with no consultation whatsoever with any GP organisation. It would surely be considered normal when introducing any new service to at least consult with the people providing it,” he commented.

Mr Goodey said that parents would understandably bring their children to the GP a lot more frequently if they did not have to pay for the consultation.

“Already, in some parts of the country, patients have to wait two or three days to see their GP and this is the summer. Imagine what it will be like in winter, they will have to wait five or six days and that is without free GP care for the under-fives.”

Call for paediatric nurses

In the event that the plan to introduce free care to the under-fives goes ahead, the NAGP will be calling for rotational paediatric nurses to be provided in rural areas and for the larger primary care centres to have a paediatric nurse on-site.

Health Minister James Reilly first alluded to the plan to introduce free GP care on a phased basis at the MacGill Summer School in Co Donegal last week.

Questions remain about source of funding

He has insisted that the policy can be introduced within the lifetime of the administration, which was pledged in the Programme for Government, although no progress has been made so far. However, questions still remain about where the estimated €400m to €500m a year to fund free GP care will come from.

The proposals would see the announcement of free GP care for under-fives in the autumn and a pledge to extend this benefit to other age groups over the following two years. Minister of State at the Department of Health, Alex White is currently working on the detail of the proposals.

The Irish Medical Organisation has also expressed concern at reports that free GP care for the under-fives will be introduced this year, given that the Department of Health had not been in contact with the union on what would be a major policy change and a fundamental change to the terms of the GMS.