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Govt criticised over reports it will "drop" free GP card scheme

The scheme, which would have applied to people with long-term illness, was an election commitment from the government.

Minister of State Alex White
Minister of State Alex White
Image: Barry Cronin/Photocall Ireland

REPORTS THAT THE government is to drop the GP card for people with long-term illness has been heavily criticised by a number of groups.

It was reported in the Irish Times today that there are plans for the free GP card for such people to be dropped, despite the fact the Government had committed to making the card available.

Speaking to News at One on RTÉ today, Junior Minister Alex White said that the plan for free GP care for all will be seen within the lifetime of this government.

He said that legislation for the free card for people with long-term illnesses has become bogged down. He has proposed that the government look at the entirety of the plan and how they phase and cost it.

White described it as good public policy to say ‘are we doing it in the right way’. He added there is no change in the government planning to provide free GP care for all within the lifetime of this government.

According to White, if they continue with the plan as it is, they risk risk further delay. He is due to make a proposal to Health Minister James Reilly before the end of the summer.

White said that it is true that delays are frustrating, and that they are frustrating for people in government as well.

“We’ll do this, but we may have to do it in a slightly different way,” said White, adding that clarity is what people want to see.

Disappointing

However, Sinn Féin Health spokesperson Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin TD said that it is a “hugely disappointing development” and something that will create great difficulties and concerns for other sectors.

Ó Caoláin described the health policy of the government as “now in tatters”.

This was supposed to be the first phase of the extension of free GP care to all within the lifetime of the government as they promised in their Programme for Government. It was to have been introduced in March 2012 but we now find that it has been abandoned.

Deputy Ó Caoláin said it is time “for a major rethink on health policy by this government with the emphasis on supporting and enhancing the public health system, funded from fair taxation, and ensuring equal access for all based on medical need alone”.

“Mishandling”

The Irish Medical Organisation (IMO) has strongly criticised the Government for what it described as “the mishandling of its efforts” to extend GP cards to patients with long-term illnesses.

Dr Ray Walley, chairman of the GP Committee of the IMO, said that the Government had wasted two years trying to achieve an impossible objective while ignoring a growing crisis in chronic patient care and GP services.

Dr Walley said that the IMO had warned the Government that there would be huge problems trying to extend free GP card coverage on the basis of health rather than income.

He added that the failure would raise serious questions about the Government’s strategy for free GP care for all during the lifetime of this Government, adding: “The Minister should refocus his efforts on tackling the resource crisis in GP surgeries now so that patients could start seeing a meaningful improvement in their treatments.”

“In tatters”

Fianna Fáil Health Spokesperson Billy Kelleher TD described the news as a “reminder of the abject failure of James Reilly’s leadership”.

The two key pillars of the Government’s plan for the health service are Universal Health Insurance and Free GP Care for All. Over the course of the last few weeks, it has become clear that both policies are collapsing.

He also questioned if Minister Reilly “is the wrong person to be in charge of one of the country’s most important departments?”.

Read: 20,000 people over 70 to lose medical cards under new legislation>

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