A public survey conducted by Amárach Research has revealed that only 1 in 5 people support the provision of free GP visits for children under 6 years of age.

While the majority of people are in favour of free health care, raising income thresholds for medical cards was the most widely preferred first step to introducing universal health care for all.

Respondents were asked to identify their preference as the first step towards universal healthcare from three options – raising the income threshold for medical card qualification; providing free GP visits to all children under 6 years of age; or proving full medical cards to all people over 70 years of age.

Only 20% of respondents favoured free GP visits for children under 6 as the first step. This percentage fell to 28% in the 35-44 age group. Even among parents, only 1 in 3 voted in favour of the under-6s proposal.

The survey was conducted as part of the Amárach monthly online omnibus on behalf of the National Association of GPs (NAGP) which represents more 1,200 GPs.

“GPs are not in favour of the scheme. The public is not in support of the scheme. So why the Government is insistent on railroading it through is beyond me,” said Chris Goodey, CEO of the NAGP.

“The NAGP has repeatedly said that the priority should be providing free health care to those most in need, be that medically or financially. The results of this survey show that the public also believes that the first step towards universal healthcare should be raising the income threshold for medical cards. Raising the income thresholds is the fairest way to introduce universal healthcare and will have the greatest impact on the population as a whole, particularly those in the squeezed middle.”

“The Minister for Health has summarily dismissed the concerns of doctors regarding the under-6s proposal. We can only hope that the lack of public support for the initiative will finally convince the Government to abandon the scheme and focus scarce health funding on initiatives which can deliver real benefits for the population as a whole.”

The research also revealed overwhelming support for expanding the services providing in general practice. 83% of respondents were in favour of GPs delivering more of the minor treatments and medical services that are currently only provided in hospitals. Support for an expanded general practice service increased to 90% among those aged 45 and older, and rose to 93% among the retirees.

“Providing more services within general practice is an obvious way to reduce hospital waiting times, and is the most equitable and cost-effective means of delivering care, particularly for patients who have a chronic disease such as diabetes or asthma. For a relatively small amount of Government investment, the benefits for patients, the Exchequer and our burgeoning hospital system would be considerable,” Mr Goodey said.

The survey was conducted between March 24th and March 27th. Data was collected from a national representative sample of 1,000 adults aged 16+ years. A combination of quota controls and weighted has been incorporated to ensure that the final sample is aligned to the population in terms of age, social class and region.