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Minister for Health ‘disappointed’ at failure to fill GP training places

“At the same time that Government is rightly increasing training places, because we recognise we need more GPs, it is disappointing that that quota has not been filled,” Minister Harris told journalists at the 2017 IMO AGM in Galway.

“I think it does show a great urgency for a new GP contract. I think it also shows the urgency for a GP contract with flexibility in it, in terms of work and lifestyle choices that would reflect the diverse needs of doctors, particularly young and new doctors who are deciding what career pathway to take in health.

“An example of that, and it is only one example and is not universally wanted by doctors — and nor should it be — is the option of a salaried GP, whether you’d be employed by the HSE or a third party and could work certain hours in a certain community and also not have to be an SME owner and employ staff and run a business. I think that is part of modernising the process.”

Minister Harris reiterated that he was keen, however, to deliver a new GP contract, even though “it will take quite a while”.

“As I said in my speech, I expect it to take the bulk of this year. I also don’t expect it to be a static contract. The flaw in the last contract was that it lay static for so many years and then had kinds of ‘bells and whistles’ and ‘twists and turns’ added on to it. We need to have a situation where this is a living, breathing document so I hope 2017 will see substantial progress but that you could build-in reviews and intervals quite regularly.”

Minister Harris told the Medical Independent (MI) that he hoped conditions like Crohn’s disease, of which he has personal experience, could be managed in the community under a new GP contract.

When asked by MI if he wanted to see the 30 per cent pay cut to new-entrant consultants reversed, Minister Harris said: “I am very disciplined on this issue. There is a reason we have a public sector pay commission. There is a reason we are going to have a pay process and I think it is very important for all Ministers, regardless of their sector, to respect that process. I think the public sector pay commission is a breath of fresh air in terms of the labour analysis that it is doing, in terms of labour market trends, the needs of the country now and into the future. The IMO and indeed other organisations have had their opportunity to make submissions and will have the opportunity to argue their case.”

Continuing, he acknowledged that “pay is an important part of any recruitment and retention strategy”.

When asked by MI if he was in favour of commencing negotiations on new consultant and NCHD contracts, the Minister said he was open to that in the context of public pay talks: “I think ultimately, we need to get to that but I’d like to see what the public sector pay commission brings [first]”.

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