Three quarters of GPs are expected to sign up for free healthcare for kids under six

Three quarters of GPs are expected to sign up for free healthcare for kids under six

Three quarters of GPs are expected to sign up to a 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%.

Slow uptake in some areas has been dismissed by the Government, with Health Minister Leo Varadkar describing the radical reform as an investment in future generations.

"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."

The free GP health care service will operate from July 1.

Figures from the HSE showed 62% of the country's 2,415 GP surgeries signed up, 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 Irish Medical Organisation supports the scheme while the National Association of General Practitioners is firmly against it, claiming it will increase workloads and encourage parents to unnecessarily bring children into surgeries for checks.

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.

Amid criticism of the lack of full compliance from doctors, junior minister at the Department of Health and Children Kathleen Lynch said she expected 75% to sign up by the end of the week.

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.