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Free GP care for under 12s as government agrees new contract with doctors

The government is increasing funding for GPs in exchange for reforms and changes to the services they provide.

Simon Harris welcomed the news
Simon Harris welcomed the news
Image: Sam Boal/Rollingnews.ie

THE GOVERNMENT HAS said it has reached an agreement with the Irish Medical Organisation (IMO) on a revised GP contract which will see – among other measures – free GP care for children aged 12 and under.

Also included in the contract is a structured chronic disease management programme, ehealth measures, pharmacist-led medication reviews and reforms to maternity and paternity leave.

In return for GPs’ cooperation with the reforms, the government will increase its investment in general practice by 40% – or €210 million – over the next four years.

Health Minister Simon Harris said today the agreement is a “landmark for the health service”. 

Under the agreement, GPs will offer venesection for patients with haemochromatosis, meaning that 8,000 people will no longer have to attend hospitals for therapeutic phlebotomy.

The provision of free GP care for under 12s will be phased in over the next few years, beginning from next year. Previously, children under the age of six could access free GP care.

GPs will also formally cooperate with HSE multidisciplinary networks of health professionals delivering care in the community, with a special focus on those with complex needs.

The chronic disease management programme will cover patients with conditions such as diabetes, asthma, COPD and cardiovascular disease, and try to address issues for patients at an early stage. 

There are currently 1.56 million people in the country with a medical card, and over 500.000 with a GP visit card, meaning 42% of the population has access to GP care currently, the government said.

Total payments to GPs in 2017 under these schemes amounted to €525 million and this increased funding will help to implement reforms recommended in the landmark Sláintecare plan, according to Harris.

The health minister said: “I appreciate that GPs have been under pressure in recent years to maintain services in the face of increasing demand and stretched resources.

The funding stream that will flow in return for the changes we are announcing today will put general practice on a much more sustainable footing and help to make it an attractive and exciting career choice for doctors.

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Sean Murray

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