Doctors have said they are disappointed with plans to extend free GP Visit Cards to all carers in receipt of Carer's Allowance, without first negotiating with GPs who will have to deal with the increased demand.
Earlier this week, the Department of Health confirmed that all people in receipt of Carer's Allowance are to be provided with GP Visit Cards next year.
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.
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, the Irish Medical Organisation (IMO) has expressed disappointment with this announcement.
It has advised the department that such a measure requires negotiation and adequate resources for general practice, if these patients are to be cared for appropriately.
"This is not an issue about carers, who we acknowledge are very deserving of a whole range of supports. This is an issue about transforming and developing general practice so as to deliver real change in a planned and coordinated manner, not just giving out GP cards as tokens to patients in a vote buying exercise," the IMO said.
According to Dr Padraig McGarry, chairperson of the IMO's GP Committee, GP services ‘are in crisis'.
"It is going to be very challenging to deliver a meaningful service to what is a deserving group of patients and we must be sure that whatever is promised to these patients is capable of being delivered.
"In light of the current underinvestment and capacity problems in general practice, the Government still chooses to increase demand for services through meaningless inadequately funded initiatives such as this, rather than deal with the growing crisis in GP services," Dr McGarry added.
Meanwhile, according to the National Association of General Practitioners (NAGP), the Minister for Health has made a promise 'that he knows he cannot deliver'.
"In recent weeks, the Minister has recognised that there is no additional capacity in the GP sector, yet makes this promise...Further, this decision was made without consultation or agreement with the medical representative bodies. The announcement demonstrates a complete disconnect and lack of engagement with GPs," it said.