Free GP care for the 56,000 people who are registered as having a long-term illness will come into effect in early March 2012, according to Minister Roisin Shortall.

Ms Shortall is the Minister of State at the Department of Health and is responsible for primary care.

She also said that from March 2013, the 50,000 patients who are on the high-dependency drugs scheme will also no longer pay GP fees.

Minister Shortall said the changes were part of the plan to introduce free GP care for everyone by 2015.

She was speaking at the first national primary care conference in Cork today.

Free GP care for people who currently obtain free drugs on the long-term illness scheme will cost around €17m a year and €15m a year for those who currently claim free drugs on the high-tech drugs scheme.