Free GP for under 12s, cigs hike

Free GP care is to be extended to all children under 12 next year, it has been announced in Budget 2016. The extension will be subject to agreement with doctors' representatives, however.

The price of a packet of cigarettes is to increase by 50 cents, it has also been announced in the Budget.

The Irish Medical Organisation had already warned that the introduction of free GP visits for all under 12s would not be possible until a completely new contract for State GP services is agreed.

During the summer, free GP care was introduced for all children under six.  This new scheme currently covers around 276,000 children, and when combined with children who already had medical cards, it means that almost 300,000 children can now see their GP free of charge.

The new under 12s scheme may, subject to agreement, be introduced in the latter part of 2016. Health Minister Leo Varadkar has already said he hopes to have contract negotiations with GPs concluded by next spring.

Public Expenditure Minister Brendan Howlin said free GP care for all under 12s would mark the next phase of the plan for universal free GP care.

He said funding for the health service would increase to €13.2 billion next year, while additional funding for the Fair Deal nursing home scheme would lead to applications being processed in less than four weeks.

The Irish Cancer Society welcomed the Government's announcement that the price of cigarettes will increase by a further 50 cents.

It said the hike would be a disincentive for children to start smoking and would encourage current smokers to quit.

"The increase is the most substantial since 2008 and builds on the 40c rise in Budget 2015. The Society says that sharp, regular spikes in tobacco price will help the Government reach its target of a ‘smoke-free generation' by 2025," the ICS said.

However, the Irish Heart Foundation has criticised the Government's failure to introduce a sugar sweetened drinks tax in the Budget.

"It's hard to escape the conclusion that by failing to introduce a tax on sugar sweetened drinks the Government is prioritising the wealth of multinational companies over the nation's health, and particularly the health of children. We know 60% of the Irish public back the tax," the Foundation's Head Of Advocacy Chris Macey said.


[Posted: Tue 13/10/2015]

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