Minister for Public Expenditure Brendan Howlin has said in 2016 it is planned to extend GP care without fees to all those aged 11 and under.

Funding is also being made available to provide therapeutic services for children, particularly for speech and language therapy.

The minister announced Government funding of €940m for the Fair Deal scheme and said everyone who needs Fair Deal funding will be approved within four weeks.

Minister for Health Leo Varadkar has said that health spending will increase by 2% next year, based on this year's final spend.

The increase is €280m when the €600m supplementary budget this year is also accounted for.

"Last year we secured the first increase in the health budget in seven years. This year represents a further increase, bringing health spending above €13bn for the first time since the economic crash,”  Mr Varadkar  said.

“This will allow us to maintain the existing level of service, provide for the increase in demand that arises from a growing and ageing population, and also to make a few key improvements which we will set out in the HSE service plan for 2016.

“I expect to see further increases in the health budget in future years, provided we keep the recovery going. You need a strong economy to generate the resources we need to look after our citizens and their health and wellbeing,” he added. 

Mr Varadkar explained that the scope for new programmes is limited but provision is made to fund the national maternity strategy.

Free GP care for children as laid out in the Budget would cost €10m and the aim is to introduce it, after talks with the Irish Medical Organisation, in the final quarter of 2016, Mr Varadkar said.

Elsewhere, Fianna Fáil Health Spokesperson Billy Kelleher has taken Health Minister Leo Varadkar to task for what he described as “dishonest spinning” of health spending figures.

Deputy Kelleher said: "Today Minister Varadkar outdid himself in the spin department. He announced Health funding €13.175bn for current expenditure in 2016, heralding it as an increase of €880M on last year.

"But on Budget Day last year he announced Exchequer funding of €13.079bn in current expenditure in 2015. There's a difference of €96 million between those headline figures, year on year.

"This is incredible and dishonest spin on Minister Varadkar's part to say the least. It's impossible to believe a word he says when he engages in such contortions on figures," Mr Kelleher added.

In a statement the National Association of General Practice (NAGP) said the Government "has no idea whether free GP care for the under sixes and over 70s is either working, cost effective or safe."

"Planning free GP care for another large population cohort without addressing the current crisis within general practice is a recipe for disaster", said Dr Yvonne Williams. Chair of Communications for the NAGP

"We look forward to putting our members' issues to the Minister and the Department of Health in a co-operative but robust manner" she said.

The Irish Hospital Consultants Association (IHCA) welcomed the increase in the health budget but expressed concern that the finances allocated to the health sector will not suffice to meet growing demand and the need for new services.

Dr Gerard Crotty, IHCA President, said that it is glaringly obvious that our acute hospitals have an inadequate number of ward and ICU beds and insufficient diagnostic, theatre, staffing and other resources to treat patients without delays.

 Dr Crotty added, that it is critically important that these capacity limitations are addressed in the 2016 NSP to ensure the delivery of safe high quality care to the growing number of patients presenting in acute hospitals. 

New teachers to be employed

An additional 850 teachers will be appointed to reduce class size and enhance the management of smaller post primary schools.

Average primary class size is to be reduced from 28 to 27 pupils. An additional approximately 300 teaching posts will be created to do this.

At second-level the pupil teacher ratio will be improved slightly through the appointment of another approximately 300 teachers.

An additional 250 teaching posts will be created to reduce the time many post primary deputy principals spend teaching.

This is to enhance management in medium sized post primary schools.

New gardaí to be recruited and trained 

Minister Howlin also announced funding to recruit and retrain an additional 600 gardaí.

He also said resources had been made available for improved ICT and for the new policing authority.

As it happened: Follow our Budget 2016 Live Tracker