I propose to take Questions Nos. 13, 19, 20, 50 and 191 together.
As I have previously stated in this House, the Government is committed to introducing a universal GP service without fees, on a phased basis, within its term of office. The Government's vision for primary care is the development of a single-tier system where access is based on medical need and not on ability to pay.
As announced in the Budget, the Government has decided to commence the roll-out of universal GP services by providing all children under six years with access to a GP service without fees. The Health (General Practitioner Service) Bill 2014 which will give effect to this initiative was published on 23 April 2014. It is expected that the Bill will commence passage through this House in the next few weeks.
The introduction of this service also requires a new contractual framework to be put in place between the HSE and individual general practitioners. In this regard, a draft contract is currently the subject of a consultation process and over 250 submissions have been received.
It has been well documented that there has been some negative reaction to the draft contract; however, I am pleased that the Irish Medical Organisation (IMO), the primary representative body for general practitioners, is supportive of Government policy to introduce GP care free at the point of access, albeit conditional on the provision of adequate resources and full and meaningful negotiations.
I assured the IMO, when I addressed their national GP meeting on 26 April, that the Department and the HSE are fully prepared to engage meaningfully with them and are prepared to negotiate with them on all aspects of the scope and content of the proposed contract. I have also explained that there will be an opportunity for input from the IMO on the fee structure. I invited them to meet me along with officials from the Department and the HSE on a without prejudice basis to explore a potential framework for engagement.
I am pleased to inform the House that the IMO accepted this invitation and we had a useful meeting on Friday last. We have agreed to reconvene for further discussions this afternoon.
I am confident that a process of open discussion has the potential to significantly enhance the draft contract for patients, GPs, the HSE and the Department, thus helping to progress our common goal of free GP care at the point of access.