More than 200 GPs have protested outside the Dáil, warning that patient safety is at risk as a result of cuts to the sector.

The National Association of GPs says around 2% of funding should be transferred from hospital services to boost general practice.

It says family doctors can do more, in a better way and with less expense.

However, Minister for Health Leo Varadkar has said the Health Service Executive has never had more GPs contracted to it to provide services.

He also said fees paid to family doctors have increased since the change of Government.

Mr Varadkar said GPs are under pressure and everyone in the health service was doing more work for a lower salary.

But he said there was now an opportunity to get more resources for general practice through the Government's plans to extend free GP care to children under six and people aged 70 and over.

He said talks were under way with the Irish Medical Organisation, which was the only body with a negotiating licence.

The NAGP is not included in the formal negotiations for providing free GP care.

It believes that general practice has been ignored by successive governments and says the emigration of young GPs is impacting the service.

The group has warned that patient safety and well-being is at stake and more patients are being forced unnecessarily into expensive secondary care.

The doctors promised that there would be no withdrawal of service and that adequate medical cover would be in place for all patients during the course of the protest.

Speaking on RTÉ's Morning Ireland, Dr Stephen Murphy, a GP and NAGP executive committee member, said GPs have been faced with a 40% cut in income fees and are struggling to survive because of years of successive cutbacks.

He said: "We want resourcing. We need more GPs. We need more facilities to enable us to hold on to the GPs that we have.

"We need more access to hospital services so that we can investigate our patients.

"We need to be able to retain and hold on to the GPs that we have, the practice staff that we have, the practice nurses that we have so that we can continue to provide the service."

Dr Murphy said the association would be meeting Mr Varadkar on 6 November.

He said negotiations on free GP care were being held behind closed doors and his association does not know when the scheme will be introduced.

Dr Murphy said the association was involved when the initial draft contract was rolled out at the end of January, which he said was so appallingly poor that no GP could possibly sign up to it.

It asked the department to redraft the contract and to come back to doctors, he said.

Dr Murphy added that the draft contract was rejected because it was nonsense.

He said money was only a portion and resourcing in general terms is what they are talking about - there was no reference to money in the contract.