80,000 more children aged six and seven set for free GP care this year

Free GP care for 80,000 more children aged six and seven is expected to be introduced this year, the annual conference of the Irish Medical Organisation (IMO) was told today.

here are around 130,000 children in this age group and some 50,000 already have free visits due to being covered by a medical card or GP card.

Free GP care was introduced for under-sixes in recent years.

The extension of free GP care to other age groups is expected to be rolled out on a yearly basis.

After six to seven year olds will be to 8-9 year olds. And then afterwards 10, 11 and 12 year olds will be added.

Val Moran, head of GP industrial relations in the IMO, was speaking about negotiations currently underway with health officials on the further roll out of the scheme.

Health Minister Stephen Donnelly also confirmed discussions on the extension are currently underway.

It comes as GPs face growing pressures which are being exacerbated by the arrival of Ukrainian refugees and a lack of locums to allow take some leave.

Commenting on the roll out of free contraception to women aged 17-25 he said the aim was to have this in place by August but this could be an ambitious target.

It will involve a free consultation as well as another appointment to allow for the fitting or removal of long acting reversible contraception.

GPs are also set to be involved in the possible roll out of another Covid-19 vaccine along with the flu vaccine next autumn.

The meeting heard about how some GPs are facing onerous out-of-hours rosters and this is an disincentive to some doctors setting up in some areas.

Meanwhile, the influx of Ukrainian refugees is bringing particular strain to some counties such as Kerry and Clare.

Ukrainian native Dr Kateryna Kachurets told the conference that the challenge for Ukrainians here is to get to see a GP.

She said the health system in the Ukraine is different and they may be expecting a longer consultation than ten to 15 minutes.

She said some crowded centres where Ukrainian refugees are staying have seen Covid-19 outbreaks and there is also a risk of chickenpox and norovirus spread.

Dublin GP Dr Ray Walley said some of his Russian patients are very upset by what is happening in the Ukraine and are having to be treated for the mental stress.

Speaking at the conference Mr Donnelly paid tribute to doctors’ working during the Covid-19 pandemic and said they played a major role in keeping the death rate lower than other countries.

Commenting on the current ballot underway by junior doctors (NCHDs), over long work hours and a range of other which could lead to hospital strikes in July he said his hope was to fix”

“I hear you in relation to work-life balance, and the attractiveness of both NCHD and consultant posts. I want to say quite clearly that the current situation is not acceptable. And I am committed to fundamental change and reform.

“NCHDs should get paid for all hours worked. NCHDs should not have to work unsafe hours. NCHDs should have access to training and be able to take annual and study leave. NCHDs should have access to adequate facilities at work. I have written to the HSE asking that they engage with you, and I have been assured that by them that they will work collaboratively with the IMO.

“I believe we can make quick progress on a number of issues:. Funding has been provided to Hospital Groups to support education and training, and health and wellbeing projects for NCHDs. An additional €600,000 is being allocated to provide improvements to on site NCHD facilities in areas such as on-call facilities, out of hours catering, lockers and residences..

“A pilot programme for a network of Clinical Education Leads at site level will be rolled out in July. This will starting in South/SouthWest and CHI hospital groups. These leads will support NCHDs. A programme of work is beginning with the postgraduate training bodies to actively identify more job sharing posts that can be accessed by the trainees. I have asked my Department and the HSE to address concerns raised about Geographic Rotations and engage with the training bodies. We should try, where possible, to reduce the number of geographic moves required.

“I have also asked the HSE and Department to find solutions to the huge problem created by emergency tax being levied on NCHDs.”

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