Over 10,000 children have been signed up for free GP care

Free GP care: Minister Varadkar described the radical reform as an investment in future generations
Free GP care: Minister Varadkar described the radical reform as an investment in future generations

More than 10,000 children have been signed up for free GP care by their parents following the Government launch of the under-sixes scheme.

Around three quarters of GPs are expected to sign up to the scheme offering free care for 300,000 children under six by the end of the week.

As demand from parents for online registration caused a system crash on day one, health chiefs revealed 62% of doctors have already put their names down for the service, with the total expected to rise to 75%.

The website launch yesterday encountered a minor glitch following the volume of people attempting to register for the scheme online. 

Speaking yesterday, Minister Leo Varadkar described the radical reform as an investment in future generations and said the launch of the scheme had gone well despite the IT malfunction. 

"From this summer, almost 300,000 children will be able to see their GP without paying fees, for the first time," he said.

"The scheme has a strong focus on keeping people healthy, and preventing illnesses."

Mr Varadkar added: "I strongly believe that, in the future, children should not be means-tested for healthcare based on their parents' income.

"We don't do it for education, childcare or child benefit and we should strive to reach a stage where we don't do it for healthcare."

He pointed out that free GP care is the norm in many countries in Europe, and that Ireland was one of the countries to adopt the policy. 

Figures from the HSE showed 62% of the country's 2,415 GP surgeries signed up yesterday, with Donegal leading the way in terms of support among the medical profession with a 94% sign up rate.

Other counties with 90% support were Roscommon, Sligo/Leitrim, while some of those with 80% plus support were Galway, Laois/Offaly, North Cork, Longford/Westmeath and Mayo.

Only 8% of GPs in South Tipperary had put their names down for free care for under-sixes.

The HSE said it continues to receive signed contracts from GPs and will process these and update the list of participating doctors as quickly as possible.

Online registration at initially crashed after huge demand from parents, but the Health Service Executive (HSE) said there are weeks before the system opens fully.

Accessing the scheme is straightforward with the child's PPS number, gender and date of birth required along with the parent or guardian's PPS number and contact details and the GP's name.

The scheme will give the country's 276,000 children under six, who do not have access to care under a medical care, the right to see a GP without charge.

It will also include age-based assessments to help in the early identification of obesity and other problems and the prevention of disease.

These will be carried out once when a child turns two and again at five, while the free care plans will also introduce agreed treatments for children with asthma.