Public hospital in-patient charges for children are to be abolished, the Minister for Health has confirmed.

Stephen Donnelly today received Cabinet approval to draft a Bill to provide for the abolition of both overnight and day case public in-patient charges for children under 16.

In a statement, the Department of Health said: "These charges have been in place for many years, therefore primary legislation will be needed to amend the Health Act 1970.

"The legislation needed to fulfil this objective will now be developed by the Department of Health and the draft Bill will be published as soon as it is finalised.

"The proposed Bill will remove the existing acute statutory in-patient charge of €80 per night for all children less than 16 years of age in all public hospitals."

Speaking after Cabinet, Minister Donnelly said: "I welcome the approval by Government today for the drafting of this important legislation. This proposal is yet another important step towards delivering universal healthcare in Ireland.

"This legislation, when drafted and enacted, will ease the financial burden of parents/guardians when bringing their child to hospital for in-patient care.

"Our goal is Universal Healthcare and this is another important step towards affordability as it will make our public hospitals free for children when they access treatment as a public patient."

He said he hoped the charges will be abolished by summer.

Government Chief Whip Jack Chambers today published the legislative programme which contains 34 bills for publication and priority drafting for the forthcoming Oireachtas session.

The abolition of hospital charges for children under 16 is among the planned legislation.

Mr Chambers said: "The Personal Injuries Resolution Board Bill, under the Department of Enterprise, Trade & Employment, will enhance and reform the role of the Personal Injuries Assessment Board (PIAB) to increase the number of cases which are settled by PIAB without the need for litigation."

Another bill included for priority is the Local Government (Maternity protection for Local Authority Elected members) Bill which provides for maternity leave for members elected to local authorities around the country.

In Justice, the Gambling Regulation Bill will establish a regulator for the sector and modernise the licensing of gambling activities.

Another piece of legislation, the Family Courts Bill, will establish a Family Court as a separate division within the existing court structures.