The National Association of General Practitioners (NAGP) said today that Minister Alex White’s latest comments on free GP care demonstrated the lack of planning and consultation shown by his Department in its policy of introducing the measure.

Minister White said recently that free GP care would not, in fact, be free GP care, but would instead come with a charge of €5. However, he also said that free care for the under-sixes would not come with such a charge.

“We have warned repeatedly that providing free GP care for the under-sixes will result in over a million extra visits per year to GPs,” said Chris Goodey, chief executive officer of the NAGP. “This measure will not work as only a tiny percentage of GPs are willing to sign up for it.”

“It will be a huge amount of extra work to put on struggling GP practices at a time when many are either losing money or just breaking even. The policy is unworkable without consultation with GPs,” he added.

Mr Goodey called on the Minister to publish the White Paper on Primary Care and to set out clearly and comprehensively what his plan was for the sector.

He said: “Our members don’t know what the Minister means by free primary care. Are services such as physiotherapy, mental health and access to a public health nurse also to be free? Or is it to be just the GP? Will there be a charge or not for ‘free’ GP care? It doesn’t give us much confidence in the Minister when he changes the policy every week and he still hasn’t allowed us any input into how the system will work except to say ‘take it or leave it’.”

Mr Goodey called again for meaningful consultation on the proposed scheme for free care for the under-sixes and said GPs were willing to engage in discussions with the Minister, but would not respond to diktats that took no account of the current state of general practice and the massive increase in workload that would ensue if his ill-thought out plans came to fruition.

He stated: “It seems that the policy of the Minister is to promise great things for the future, but not to put any practical measures in place to achieve these goals. Universal health insurance and free GP care seem as distant as ever, but the Minister talks like these goals have already been achieved. Yet he still doesn’t know if there will be a charge for ‘free’ GP care, or how he will get doctors to agree to it.”

“It demonstrates a lack of planning and consultation that is sure to lead to disaster,” he added.

Mr Goodey said that the GPs in his organisation remained committed to providing an excellent service, but that they needed some input into the planning process if there were to be major changes in primary care as envisaged by the Minister.

“The Minister has to reach out to general practitioners or else his plans will come to nought. The Irish people deserve a proper primary care health service, not pie-in-the-sky promises and plans that show little sign of working now or in the future.”