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Minister can't rule out "fiver or tenner" charge for 'free' GP care

Alex White raised the issue of nominal fees at the Labour conference, but says he is “not advocating such a charge”.

Minister of State Alex White
Minister of State Alex White
Image: Photocall Ireland

JUNIOR HEALTH MINISTER Alex White has indicated a nominal point-of-access charge could be introduced for those accessing ‘free’ GP services as part of the Government’s plan to extend care to all citizens.

The Labour TD initially raised the issue during a policy discussion at the party’s conference in Enfield, Co Meath at the weekend.

Speaking on RTÉ’s Morning Ireland today, he said the comment was made in the context of a wide-ranging discussion and shouldn’t be taken out of context.

He said other countries that had introduced similar schemes had brought in “very small fiver or tenner” charges and that he had been “simply pointing that out for the sake of completeness”.

He said he was “not advocating such a charge”.

The Reilly factor

Health Minister James Reilly has committed to introducing free GP care for every citizen in the State by the time of the next general election in 2016.

Free care for the under sixes was introduced as part of Budget 2014 — and Reilly said in the wake of that announcement that free care at the point of use meant “free — full stop” with no hidden charges.

White said this morning that there would be “no charges nominal or otherwise relation to free GP care for under sixes”.

Asked several times whether he could rule out point-of-access charges as the scheme was extended to other age groups, he declined to answer the question directly, saying:

Your listeners of course know that nothing is free. We all know that the health services have to be paid for.

The Minister of State said he thought services should be free at the point of access, but pointed out that a “very small access fee of a fiver does arise in Sweden and France and so on, but they are essentially free services”.

He said that other countries used the nominal fee as a way of keeping down attendance levels, as there were fears amongst the medical profession that the abolition of charges could lead to a surge in demand.

“The trouble is, when we have a blue-sky policy discussion we have to be able to have an open debate.”

White said that to “extract one exchange” from the party discussion was unfair and that his comments did not represent a reversal of policy.

Reilly: Everyone will have free GP care by 2016, IMO: There’s no hope of that

More: “James Reilly is a reforming minister” says ministerial colleague

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