All people in receipt of Carer's Allowance are to receive a GP Visit Card, the Department of Health has confirmed.
Carer's Allowance is paid to people on low incomes who are looking after a person who needs support because of age, disability or illness. It is a means tested payment and the amount the carer receives depends on their age and the number of people they are looking after.
Rates range from €209 per week to €370.50, with small extra payments provided if there are child dependents.
Until now, those in receipt of Carer's Allowance were not automatically granted a Medical Card or GP Visit Card. As a result, they had to undergo an assessment to see if they were eligible.
However, from next year, this will no longer be the case.
"This measure will ensure that everyone who is a carer and in receipt of Carer's Allowance, and who up to now has not qualified on means or age grounds, will now be able to attend a GP free of charge. This will be implemented in 2018, subject to the drafting and enactment of the necessary legislation," the department said.
Commenting on this, the Minister for Health, Simon Harris, said he was ‘delighted' that additional funding has been allocated to this.
"We have all witnessed the strain that many families are under in caring for their loved ones, a role which is taken on without any hesitation. However, carers themselves also require our support," he said.
It is hoped that this measure will come into effect by mid-2018.
Meanwhile, an additional €10 million is also being used to provide respite care for people with disabilities. Some €8 million of this will be used to provide 12 dedicated respite houses around the country. These will provide around 19,000 respite nights per year to the people living in these 12 areas.
The other €2 million will be used for ‘innovative respite solutions', such as extended day services.
"I am very aware of the pressure on carers of people with disabilities who are often under tremendous strain to keep going. I hope that this funding will enable them to get a well-deserved break and to maintain their own health and wellbeing.
"I will be requiring the HSE to give the utmost priority to putting these new facilities and services in place without delay and to provide me with regular reports so I can ensure this additional funding is directly targeted at the people who need it most," commented the Minister of State with special responsibility for disability, Finian McGrath.