The Irish Medical Organisation has accused the Government of using medical cards and GP visit cards as "political currency" - and has warned that without additional resources for general practice, Sláintecare cannot be delivered.

Speaking as she arrived for talks at the Department of Health on difficulties facing the GP sector, IMO CEO Susan Clyne described yesterday's budget decision to extend doctor visit cards to 100,000 additional patients as "putting the cart before the horse".

She said it was absolutely unsustainable to load the system that was already "creaking with capacity problems" following funding cuts of up to 38%.

She noted that an estimated 700 GPs are due to retire in the next few years, others have already closed off their practices to new patients because they are operating at capacity, while a further cohort are emigrating or going into other medical disciplines.

She said successive governments had allowed general practice to reach a point where it was "financially unviable" - particularly due to financial emergency cuts under FEMPI legislation.

Ms Clyne said that general practice needed to be placed on a sound financial footing to deliver existing services by restoring the €120 million that had been cut from GP services during the crisis.

She also cautioned that further funding would be required to implement Sláintecare objectives including new services to enable more treatment in the community. 

Ms Clyne said she expected the talks with the Government to be very challenging.

At this morning's meeting between the IMO and the Department of Health, it is understood that the Government side outlined scope for discussions which they wish to have with the IMO about GP services. 

The union's GP committee will consider the Government proposal this evening to decide if it forms a sufficient basis to proceed with talks.

Asked what would happen if the proposals were deemed insufficient, union sources said the committee would consider its options "bearing in mind the need to provide a safe service to patients which can only be done in a system which has adequate capacity and resources".