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The government says children under six will have free GP care later this year

Legislation passed today includes an amendment to ban gagging orders on doctors that was put forward by Senator John Crown.

Image: Teddy bear via Shutterstock

THE GOVERNMENT HAS said free GP care for children under six will be implemented later this year after the legislation passed its final stages in the Dáil today.

The Bill giving effect to the measure passed its final stages in the Dáil today with new Health Minister Leo Varadkar accepting an amendment made by Senator John Crown to ban the gagging of doctors who speak out against the health service.

Crown’s move caused controversy last week after the government lost a Seanad vote to try and block the amendment. It had been thought this could delay the legislation but this was incorrect.

The Department of Health said today that “while it always was the intention to ensure freedom of expression for GPs” the amendment from Crown “copperfastens” this right. 

The move to provide free GP care has faced opposition from GPs and many have questioned whether the €37 million in funding provided for the measure will be sufficient.

The government had hoped to have it in place by the middle of this year but it is now not expected to be implemented until later this year.

The Department estimates that 240,000 children that currently must pay to see a GP will benefit from the measure.

Commenting on the passage of the legislation today, Varadkar said it is “a significant step in the Government’s plan to provide universal health care”.

“This particular measure is the keystone of the Government’s policy in the area of primary care. We are shifting the focus of healthcare from hospitals to the community, and from treating illnesses to maintaining good health,” he said.

Junior health minister Kathleen Lynch said the measure will be of enormous benefit to hard-pressed families with young children”.

As part of their statement of priorities released last week, the Taoiseach and new Tánaiste Joan Burton committed rolling out free GP care to over 70s and school-age children in the coming months.

More: Here’s the one thing Enda Kenny and Joan Burton have definitely agreed on…

Previously: The government has lost another Seanad vote – and it could delay free GP care for children

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Hugh O'Connell

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