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Almost €3 million was spent by the HSE on employing GMS GP locums in 2018, the Executive has revealed to the Medical Independent (MI).
The national average cost per annum for a GMS GP locum is €262,000, according to a HSE spokesperson.
The figure includes the cost of medical indemnity, travel, agency management fees, and VAT, the spokesperson added.
Last year, the HSE employed at least 11 GMS GP locums nationally as part of efforts to provide cover for 22 vacant GMS GP panels.
The HSE said 176 GMS GPs were awarded GMS contracts in 2018 while 101 GMS GPs retired.
“Out of the 101 retirements for 2018, 86 of these panels have been filled to date, 11 panels were dispersed to other GPs in the area and four panels are to be filled this year,” the spokesperson said.
“As of 1 December 2018, there were 22 vacant GMS panels with almost 3,000 GMS GPs in place nationally. All 22 vacant panels were covered by another GP (including 11 locum GMS GPs) so that none of the vacant panels were without a GMS service.
“Currently there are less than 1 per cent of GMS panels vacant and in each case a locum or other appropriate arrangement has been put in place to maintain services to the communities in question.”
The HSE has struggled for many years to fill vacant GMS panels with a permanent GP following Government cuts enforced on GPs, which has contributed to a recruitment and retention crisis within the profession.
The failure to fill GMS panels caused by the loss of a GP has resulted in many practice staff, such as nurses and receptionists, being forced to leave their roles.
In cases where a locum is found, the HSE usually offers existing practice staff a new contract of employment.
However, some staff are not prepared to take up the offer due to poorer terms and conditions, MI understands.