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At least 2,500 more GPs needed within next seven years

The situation has been exacerbated by the HSE’s “serious underestimate of the extra demand created by free GP care for under 6s”, combined with increased demand and growing retirement levels, according to the College. It said at least 2,500 new GPs will be needed within the next seven years to meet existing demand.

The Annual Conference of the ICGP, taking place today and tomorrow in Dublin, will host a major debate on the impending manpower shortage. The conference will hear of the financial and manpower pressures facing GPs including:

– Hundreds of GP teams closing their practices to new patients, due to manpower and capacity pressures

– Patients having to wait weeks to see individual GPs in urban and rural areas

– Many medical card lists are no longer economically viable for new entrants and patients are dispersed without notice to larger urban centres

– Inability to invest in new equipment in existing practices

– Inability to find replacements for holiday cover, illness cover or retirement

– Continuing loss of newly qualified GPs to emigration

Dr John O’Brien, incoming President of the ICGP, said GPs are the “gatekeepers” of the health service. He said that, along with their practice nurses, GPs provide around 30 million consultations annually.

“The system is in crisis, with growing numbers of existing lists closing to new patients and the HSE unable to find doctors to fill medical card lists where they are vacated. At the same time, we are training more doctors for export, and unable to attract them back because conditions are so much better abroad,” said Dr O’Brien.

“Our College Forum entitled ‘Retention, Recruitment, Replacement’ will hear from the frontline of general practice. The Taoiseach, himself a trained GP, know that this crisis is here, but we need to see the Government’s funded roadmap to help find a solution,” Dr O’Brien added.

“At present, general practice in Ireland receives just 4 per cent of the health budget; that should be at least 10 per cent according to international standards, if we are to be able to address the needs of an expanding population and the extension of free care.”

The Conference will hear that:

– The visit rate of under 6s increased to 28 per cent since the expansion of free care in July 2015, even though the HSE predicted a 3.3 per cent increase;

– Over 660 GPs are due to retire in the next seven years;

– Over 2,500 new GPs are required to meet existing and future demand within the next seven years;

– Ireland has 68 GPs per 100,000 population, compared to 110 in Canada, and 120 in Australia;

– Recent GP graduates surveys showed that almost one in five emigrate within a year of graduation, and just a quarter of those plan to return.

The two-day conference will also cover a range of clinical subjects and educational workshops for doctors, including care of the homeless, care for those with dementia, and advice to newly qualified GPs on setting up in practice.

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