The Minister for Health has said he believes most GPs will sign up to the Government scheme to give free GP care to children under six years of age.

Leo Varadkar was responding to calls from the National Association of General Practitioners for its members not to take part in the scheme, which it described as "morally reprehensible".

Mr Varadkar said all GPs were self employed so it was up to them individually to decide what to do.

He said he believed most would see the benefits of the additional resources and better outcomes that would come as a result of the scheme.

The minister said it was the first step in the extension of universal GP care to the general population and the problems in our hospitals could never be solved without improvements in primary care.

He said he was disappointed one of the groups representing GPs did not agree with that.

He also said he thought it strange the group would call for money that had been ring-fenced for primary care be put into hospitals and pharmacy instead.

The minister said talks are ongoing with the Irish Medical Organisation about the scheme, but that he expected it to be in place by the summer.

Earlier the National Association of GPs, which claims to represent about half of the country’s GPs, called on its members and non-members not to sign up to the deal.

NAGP Chief Executive Chris Goodey said it was morally reprehensible that free GP care would be extended to all children under six, regardless of their medical needs or family income, adding it would only increase the abhorrent inequities in the health service.

The IMO, which represents about 1,800 GPs, said it is continuing to take part in negotiations about the implementation of the scheme.

The Chairman of the IMO's GP Committee Dr Ray Walley said although it had always advocated for medical cards to be prioritised on the basis of income and medical need, it accepted that the under-six scheme was now Government policy.

The organisation said it is negotiating a new contract, which includes GP care for an agreed population on a phased basis.

There are as estimated 240,000 children under the age of six in Ireland.

The HSE has set aside €25m in this year’s budget for free GP care for children under the age of six.