Further extension of free GP care without an impact report on such a significant health policy means that the government has no idea whether free GP care for the under sixes and over 70s is either working, cost effective or safe.

The National Association of General Practice (NAGP) has said, furthermore, rolling out free GP care to the under 12s, without a new GP contract in place, represents a serious breach of trust given repeated promises from Minister Varadkar on this issue. The NAGP has repeatedly warned of this in the past.

“Planning free GP care for another large population cohort without addressing the current crisis within general practice is a recipe for disaster, said Dr Yvonne Williams. Chair of Communications for the NAGP, “The NAGP has repeatedly warned that our outdated 41 year old contract must be renegotiated before further workload is agreed. “The promise of talks on a new contract is simply not enough” added Dr. Yvonne Williams.

Now as the largest GP representative body with 1,450 members it is imperative that the NAGP takes a leading role in the negotiations. In coming days and weeks the NAGP has already in place consultative meetings around the country and as such is well placed to air the views of all GPs in future contract negotiations.
“We look forward to putting our members’ issues to the Minister and the Department of Health in a co-operative but robust manner.”

Aside from the contractual issues that need to be resolved, Dr Yvonne Williams cautioned that an impact report must be carried on free GP care for the under sixes and over 70s before millions more euro is invested. The NAGP is gravely concerned that almost €300,000 was spent in recent months promoting the latest doctor visit card scheme. Yet 80,000 children remain unregistered. This is money that could have funded free meningitis B vaccine for children around the country, which could have actually saved lives.

“Rolling out further free GP care for the under 12s while essentially flying blind, means that the government could be wasting millions of tax payers’ money,” warned Dr. Williams.

“General Practice is one of the most efficient parts of the health service yet In the meantime, scarce resources should be directed toward the one part of the health service that has a proven track record of 92% patient satisfaction. – General Practice needs urgent re-investment if patient safety and the continuation of high quality services are to be maintained”

Investing money in general practice and GP out of hours services would keep people away from ED departments and lessen the pressure on the hospital system as we come into the winter, she added.

It will also stem the tide of forced GP emigration, make rural practices once again viable, and allow young GPs, anxious to stay in Ireland, to serve their communities.