The Irish Medical Organisation (IMO) has said there are "serious questions over the viability" of extending free GP care to all children under the age of 13.
The Minister for Health, Simon Harris, announced at the weekend that he has received Government approval to extend free GP care to all children aged under 13, beginning with children aged six and seven this year.
Access to medical cards is also to be increased among those over the age of 70 as a result of increased income limits for assessments.
"We remain determined to ensure that cost should not be a prohibiting factor in children accessing appropriate healthcare when and where they require it, and this decision is a significant step towards meeting that goal.
"Likewise, it is important that older members of our society are enabled to access the healthcare they need, and the revision of the income limits as announced in Budget 2020 will see improved access to healthcare for up to 56,000 people in this group," the Minister said.
However, responding to the announcement, the IMO pointed out that the basis on which free GP care will be introduced to children under 13 has not been agreed between it and the Government. It also questioned the viability of such a move "given the intense pressure already faced by GPs across the country".
"GP services are at breaking point both in our day time and out-of-hours services and without significant additional resources, it is simply not realistic to introduce policies to increase demands on a what is a very fragile service," commented IMO president, Dr Padraig McGarry.
He insisted that the Government is not dealing with the real issues facing GPs and is instead "pursuing an electioneering strategy of offering what they call ‘free' services".
"There are serious problems within general practice. The recent agreement between the IMO and the Department of Health is at the early stages of implementation and we must address what we can see are very significant problems in terms of the capacity within the service.
"We still have problems of practices being unable to take on new patients and serious problems in our out-of-hours service. Any extension of cards must take these issues into account," Dr McGarry noted.
He said that when GPs read about promises like these, "our hearts sink because we know that the service is already fragile and we despair that people who should know better don't seem to care".
"Any talks on potential extensions to the service must take into account capacity and adequate resourcing," Dr McGarry added.
Meanwhile, Minister Harris has confirmed that the Department of Health will now draft a Bill to extend GP care without charges to all children of primary school age and to increase the income limits for medical card assessments for people aged 70 and older.
Discussions on this topic are now closed.