Alan Kelly weighs into free GP care row, calling for speedy GP appointments
By Fiachra O Cionnaith, political reporter
Labour deputy leader Alan Kelly has called for a new programme to fast track extra doctors into GP roles amid a growing row with Fine Gael over whether free care for all can be achieved.
Speaking on Newstalk's Breakfast Show this morning the Environment Minister said finding extra doctors is "absolutely critical" and that a new system must be set up to fill serious gaps in the service.
At the launch of his party's election campaign yesterday, Labour leader Joan Burton insisted the junior coalition member would provide free GP care for all by the end of the next government - if it is re-elected.
However, Fine Gael Health Minister Leo Varadkar has said this will not be possible due to a shortage of doctors, back-tracking on the coalition's previous promises.
Ms Burton said she had raised the need for more GPs with Mr Varadkar, but the Health Minister last night said he did not recall any such conversation.
Wading into the row this morning, Mr Kelly said it was essential a new system was set up to fill the vital health service positions.
"We need a programme to bring in more [GPs]. It's absolutely critical," he said.
Over the past decade, doctors' groups have repeatedly raised concerns over the lack of GPs in the system and the fact a large cohort of those already in place would be retiring in the near future.
The issues were officially the reasons put forward by the medical unions for opposing free GP care for under sixes and over 70s as it would place too much strain on doctors already working - a position they say would only be made worse by free GP care for all.
In addition, a small number of rural communities now have no GP in their area, with isolated parts of the west of Ireland worst affected.
The recent McGovern report found that in order to create a free-GP-care-for-all system, as many as 1,000 more doctors would need to be recruited into the HSE.