GPs claim they have seen more parents bringing children for visits over minor complaints

The free care for under-sixes scheme came into effect just over a year ago

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File photo. Image: Andrew Matthews / PA Wire/Press Association Images

Doctors surgeries around the country say they have experienced a significant increase in parents bringing children for visits with minor complaints.

The scheme for free GP care for under-sixes came into effect a year ago, with the Irish Independent reporting 155 doctors have refused to sign up.

Many of the doctors who have signed up are reminding parents that it should only be used in cases of emergency.

It is also reported that working parents are bringing minors to surgeries late in the evening due to tight schedules - resulting in longer waiting times.

Dr Brendan O'Shea is the medical director of KDOC, an out of hours GP service for Kildare and Wicklow.

He spoke to Jonathan Healy on the Pat Kenny Show about the current situation.

"We're always looking at our numbers, because it's a very tricky balancing act in terms of the resources we have to deal with - demand on one hand, and on the other hand the needs of patients as they are presenting to us," he explained.

"Last year, up to December 2015, we noticed an increase from 54,000 out of hours consults up to 60,000 - so that's an 11% increase. 40% of that increase was due to under-sixes," he said.

He stressed that many medical practitioners believe the extension of the medical card to under-sixes is a good thing, but argued it has created a few tight spots.

"We are working harder - we know it's particularly tight in remote rural areas [...] and deprived urban centres. And in general we have a manpower squeeze in general practice that is getting worse.

"Again, it's important to look at the reality here. The vast majority of GPs have signed up to the under-sixes. In all of our surgeries we are seeing more pediatric patients as a result.

"A lot of the time they're not runny noses and teething - some of the time they're going to be asthma, diabetes or minor trauma. So it is important for parents and kids that they are seen quickly," he added.