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Free GP care to be expanded to another 500,000 people from August

The move will cover all six and seven-year-olds and people who are earning up to the median income.

THE GOVERNMENT HAS announced plans to expand free GP care to more than half a million people next month.

The move will expand community healthcare from August to almost 80,000 six and seven-year-olds who currently don’t have a GP card and roughly 470,000 people who are earning up to the median income of €47,000.

It followed a recommendation in the 2017 Sláintecare Report that called for the elimination of Ireland’s two-tier healthcare system and the removal of inpatient charges.

Sláintecare began to be implemented after that report, but progress has been slow in the wake of the Covid-19 pandemic, and a cyber attack on the HSE’s system.

The ESRI has estimated that providing free GP care to all citizens by 2026 would cost between €381 million and €881 million.

  • Read more here on how to support a major Noteworthy project to examine why it is difficult for many to get access to a local GP.

Minister for Health Stephen Donnelly said today that there is a “very substantial financial element” for GPs as part of the announcement that fee care would be expanded to another 500,000 people from August, including an increase in fees.

He also said the move came after several months of “very constructive, productive engagement” with the Irish Medical Organisation (IMO), one union which represents GPs.

It’s a really important measure for people all over the country who simply cannot afford to go to the GP,” the minister said.

“This government is fully committed to universal healthcare. One of the cornerstones of universal healthcare is that the healthcare must be affordable.

“And we know that while there is over two million people in the country who have either a medical card or a GP card, and there are others who can afford the 60 or the 65 euro to see a GP, (but) there are many in the middle who simply cannot afford it and simply we do not want a situation where people put off going to see their GP.”

Donnelly confirmed to reporters that this is the final expansion of the free GP card roll out by the Government. 

The chair of the IMO’s GP committee Dr Tadhg Crowley said today that the mve recognised the need to continue to invest in General Practice in Ireland.

He also said that the IMO welcomed the commencement of a wider strategic review into General Practice.

“GPs are working under significant pressure every day given the capacity problems within General Practice,” he said.

“The reality is that there is no quick fix for our capacity issues and while we welcome more training places being made available, more will need to be done to attract and retain doctors to the system.”

Donnelly said the government recognised that GPs are facing substantial demand and need extra space available to deal with that.

“Critically as well, we know GPs have said, quite rightly, they’re under pressure and they need extra capacity,” he said.

“There is a very substantial financial element to this measure for GPs. Increasing the fees that they are paid, but critically as well, increasing supports for them to hire more staff and to invest in their practices.

“We’ve been putting a lot of extra supports and services around them, like access to diagnostics – something that has gone down very well with GPs and their patients, they’re now central to chronic disease management.”

He added: “I am absolutely confident that this is a measure that works for patients, right across the country, and also it works for our fantastic general practitioners right across the country as well.”

Contains reporting by Christina Finn and Stephen McDermott.

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