The ICGP has proposed ten potential solutions to the growing shortage of GPs in a new discussion paper launched at its Autumn Conference.
Against a growing workforce and workload crisis, most GP practices in both urban and rural Ireland are unable to take on new patients, according to the College.
A 2021 membership survey showed that almost 74 per cent of GPs said they were unable to take on any new private patients, while 79 per cent could not take on any new GMS patients.
ICGP research also indicates that the extension of free GP care to over 400,000 patients could lead to another 640,000 GP consultations.
The Chairman of the ICGP Board, Dr John Farrell, said: “Your GP is your first point of contact for your personal health, who co-ordinates your care, knows your history, and refers you to specialists, for a wide range of diseases over a period of your lifetime. GPs and their practice teams deliver 29 million consultations every year, and that doesn’t include out-of-hours services.”
He added: “GP practices are busier than ever, but less able to find replacements for retiring GPs, or new GPs to expand their practices and deal with growing workloads. The ICGP is now training 70 per cent more GPs per year than it did six years ago, but we have an ageing workforce and an expanding population.
“25 per cent of our GPs are over 60 years of age. More and more patients are unable to register with a GP practice, because many practice lists are at full capacity, and already there are significant waiting times for routine appointments.”
Prof Tom O’Dowd, former ICGP President and GP in Tallaght, chaired the ICGP group which produced the discussion paper, entitled Shaping the Future of General Practice .
Prof O’Dowd said: “We propose solutions in this paper, but it is the key stakeholders working collectively that will help produce the solutions. This is an urgent problem that cannot be solved overnight, and while we welcome the Minister’s decision to establish a strategic review of general practice, we urge the Minister to act immediately and to begin the process of finding innovative solutions to this crisis. This review and establishment of a Working Group is needed as a matter of urgency if the extension of free GP care is to proceed.”
The ICGP’s potential solutions are:
- Expanding GP-led multidisciplinary teams.
- At least doubling the number of GP practice nurses.
- Resourcing the career expectations of future GPs.
- Providing suitable premises for GP-led multidisciplinary teams.
- Fast-tracking suitably-qualified GPs to take on GMS lists.
- Increasing remote consulting.
- Introducing a career pipeline for rural general practice.
- Developing the role of practice manager.
- Increasing exposure to general practice in medical schools.
- Investing in GP data-informatics to drive policy and practice.
Speaking to the Medical Independent, Prof O’Dowd said that the State will need to provide funding to expand GP practices and facilities, especially to facilitate multidisciplinary teams.
He said: “If you’re getting a building you have to future-proof it and that includes having a few floors free because you will fill them in two or three years.”
Prof O’Dowd added the College was “very keen” on the medical schools expanding GP places. “I think the medical schools… have given general practice a corner of the curriculum and it’s not enough.”
The CEO of the ICGP, Mr Fintan Foy, said: “This discussion paper, driven by our members’ concerns, provides workable solutions and the ICGP is ready to play its part as a key stakeholder as part of a strategic review. For the sake of our patients and to retain high quality clinical care within the community, the need for Government and those in authority to respond is now critical.”
The ICGP held its Autumn Conference on Saturday 15 October , in the Royal Marine Hotel in Dún Laoghaire, Co. Dublin. The discussion paper Shaping the Future of General Practice is available here.