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No sessional GPs available in 55 per cent of cases

Moreover, a total of 44 per cent who tried to recruit a locum in the past year were unable to do so on more than half of the occasions that they tried.

The results have been released as the ICGP holds its Winter Meeting in Athlone today.

The College carried out the membership research in October. The ICGP is responsible for standards and training in Irish general practice, and represents over 4,000 members. A total of 815 GPs completed the survey.

Over 90-95 per cent of patients are managed in the GP setting and there are over 20 million visits to GPs in Ireland annually. There are an additional one million consultations to the out-of-hours co-ops.

ICGP Medical Director Dr Margaret O’Riordan said it hopes the research will contribute to the debate “about addressing the current and future needs of general practice for general practitioners and patients”.

The key findings from this research are:

• 90 per cent of GPs feel that communication between the Government and GPs has failed both doctors and patients.

• 47 per cent of GPs describe their morale as poor or very poor, and for 77 per cent, their morale has worsened over the past five years. Some 74 per cent of GPs rated their current stress levels as high or very and high.

• 55 per cent of GPs who tried to recruit a sessional doctor/assistant in the past year were unable to do so.

• Only 44 per cent of GPs who tried to recruit a locum in the past year were able to do so on more than half of the occasions that they tried.

• Rural GPs were less successful in terms of recruiting sessional/assistants or locum cover.

• The majority of GPs consider that free GP care to the under-sixes and over- 70s will impact on waiting times in general practice.

• Just over one third consider that free care to the over-70s will result in improved monitoring of health needs.

• Almost two-thirds of GPs support the principle of primary care teams (PCT) although only 13 per cent feel they are currently working in a well-functioning PCT.

• Less than one quarter of GPs indicated a preference for co-location with a PCT.

• Over two-thirds of GPs welcome chronic care management models of care and the majority (87 per cent) agreed that moving care from secondary to primary care will benefit patients. However, this support was contingent on appropriate supports and resources being put in place.

• GPs highlighted the importance of preserving factors such as the continuity of care, the doctor/patient relationship and person centre care.

Dr O’Riordan said overall investment in primary care and general practice has, under FEMPI legislation, been cut by around 40 per cent since 2008.

“We have known anecdotally that this has had an impact on morale among our members. This report, for the first time, details the extent of that impact.

“Research shows that factors, such as work overload, lack of control over work demands and insufficient reward for work volume and complexity are risks for professional burnout. The high prevalence of these risk factors among Irish GPs would suggest that this is a high probability for many. Promoting job satisfaction and morale, in addition to addressing issues such as administrative demands, will help to retain the current workforce,” she continued.

Nevertheless, the report indicates that GPs are supportive of new developments in general practice including chronic disease management, prevention related activities and working with primary care teams.

Dr O’Riordan said this support can only be translated into reality if adequate supports and resources are put into general practice. “The current GP workforce cannot continue to function unless this situation is addressed as a priority by the Government. Mechanisms suggested elsewhere, such as new organisational arrangements, advancing the planned reversal of financial cuts and implementing workforce improvement strategies are critical to this recovery.”

The research report is the fourth in a series of reports from the ICGP this year. The earlier reports examined and made recommendations to the Government to address issues affecting rural general practice, GPs working in areas of deprivation (urban and rural) and general practice manpower.

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