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Government pledge on free GP care not met – a year on


From this week's Galway City Tribune

From this week's Galway City Tribune

Government pledge on free GP care not met – a year on Government pledge on free GP care not met – a year on

Parents of more than 7,000 six- and seven-year-olds in Galway City and county are still waiting for free GP care – promised by Government more than a year ago.

In response to queries from this newspaper, the HSE stated that the Department of Health and the HSE have made preparations for the expansion of free GP care to all children aged six and seven. “Engagements with the Irish Medical Organisation (IMO), representing GPs, in relation to the necessary fee structures remain ongoing, with the intention of introducing this service as early as possible,” said a spokesperson.

Galway West Independent TD Noel Grealish submitted a Parliamentary Question on the scheme to Health Minister Stephen Donnelly, asking when applications would be open and the scheme operational.

The reply, issued this week, stated that the expansion of GP care without charges to all children aged six and seven is intended “to commence as early as possible”.

“At present all children under six years of age are entitled to a GP visit card. My officials and the HSE have made preparations for the expansion. Engagements were held by my Department and the HSE with the IMO, representing GPs, throughout last year, and engagement is ongoing in relation to the necessary fee structures for this service,” Minister Donnelly wrote.

“Applications will open and the service will commence when that process has been completed.”

The scheme was announced last year, with the Minister telling the 2022 AGM of the IMO that he wanted the project to begin “as quickly as possible” for the 80,000 eligible children who do not qualify already for health cards.

Deputy Grealish told the Galway City Tribune: “There are more than 7,000 children of that age group in Galway City and County, out of the 135,000 six- and seven-year-olds in the country as a whole, with 1,748 in the city and 5,379 in the rest of the county.

“Possibly one-third of them are already covered for visits to the GP by virtue of having a medical card, but that still leaves a substantial number without free visits to the doctor.

“Parents are under a lot of financial stress at the moment due to the way the economy has been going over the past year, especially, with expensive electricity and gas and the cost of almost everything else shooting up too. Every extra euro they have to spend has an impact on them, and I would hate to think that anyone might delay bringing their child to the doctor because of the extra cost.

“It is vital that these talks with the IMO on fees are wrapped up as soon as possible –  after all, when this measure was announced in the Budget last September, the Minister for Health envisaged that it would be in place by the end of 2022. It’s almost nine months on from that announcement now,” Deputy Grealish said.

One city parent told this newspaper that she contacted the HSE and Department of Social Protection in January, when the Under 8 scheme was supposed to be in place, and was told to reapply in April.

“I rang the HSE again in April and May and earlier this month and was told the scheme had not been approved by Government yet, and they were ‘in the dark’ themselves.

“Each visit for my six year old is costing €60. I wouldn’t have an issue with paying, except we were told that this would be provided free of charge,” she said.


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