Tuesday, 7 October 2014
Department of Health
General Practitioner Services
360. To ask the Minister for Health his plans to roll out general practitioner visit cards to persons who have a long-term illness and are currently on the long-term illness scheme; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [38036/14]
The Government, in the recent Statement of Government Priorities, has reiterated its commitment to the introduction of a universal GP service for the entire population in line with the Programme for Government. This policy constitutes a fundamental element in the Government’s health reform programme.
Having examined the possibility of first introducing a GP service based on having a particular medical condition, this was found to be likely to be overly complex and bureaucratic for a short-term arrangement, given the commitment to providing a universal GP service for all. Relatively complex primary legislation would be required in order to provide a GP service to a person on the basis of their having a particular illness. The assessment system for such an approach would have to be robust, objective and auditable in order to have the confidence of this House as well as the general public. This legislation would have to address how a person could be certified as having such an illness, and who could do this, and how to select the diagnostic basis for medical conditions.
As well as primary legislation, there would be a need for secondary legislation to give full effect to this approach for each condition. While it would not be impossible to achieve this, it would take several months more to finalise the primary legislation, followed then by the preparation of statutory instruments. The view was then taken that this would entail putting in place a cumbersome legal and administrative infrastructure to deal with what would have been only a temporary first phase on the way to universal GP service to the entire population. The Government having considered this matter, announced, in Budget 2014, it's decision to commence the roll-out of a universal GP service for the entire population by initially providing all children under 6 years with access to a GP service without fees.
The Health (General Practitioner Service) Act 2014, which provides an entitlement for all children aged under 6 to a GP service without fees, was passed by the Oireachtas in July 2014. The Government has decided to prioritise the over 70’s in the next phase of the roll-out of universal GP care. The Government has approved the drafting of a Bill to provide a GP service without fees for all persons aged 70 years and over. Drafting of the Bill has commenced and is the subject on ongoing interaction between the Department and the Attorney-General’s Office and I anticipate the Bill will be published in the near future. The objective is to have universal GP care without fees for these 2 phases in place in the coming months, subject to the conclusion of the present discussions between the Department of Health, the HSE and the IMO and the completion of a fee-setting process.