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Striking a chord

The article has been shared well over 150 times on social media, generated dozens of comments online and a number of emails and phone calls.

The article strongly resonated with GPs across the country, both young and old, as many recognised a situation they themselves face or which confirmed their decision to seek work abroad.

The manpower crisis in Irish general practice has been well flagged over the past decade and it is now a harsh reality.

While there have been a number of positive actions to address it, such as the recent restoration and improvement of the rural practice allowance, as well as an increase in GP trainee posts, they are too little, too late.

As our cartoon below points out, we are training very many of our doctors to simply emigrate — and not come back like their predecessors.

As little as 10 years ago, young Irish GPs were still lining-up to apply to become partners in busy practices, with the hopes of one day taking on a full GMS list. The classified pages of the medical newspapers were full of advertisements from GPs seeking positions with a view to partnership, with plenty of practices advertising to hire them. There were also dozens of ‘locum available’ adverts for GPs to choose from. That has all changed, with such ads now sparse, while the ‘locum wanted’ ads go largely unanswered. As Dr Lucia Gannon wrote in a recent column for this newspaper, good — or any — locums are like gold-dust, with many GPs simply unable to take a proper holiday this year. A completely dismal and unfair situation.

The succession of cuts under FEMPI, the recession, the failure to implement the Primary Care Strategy, as well as exhausting hours for many rural doctors have all taken a severe toll on Irish general practice and it is not surprising new graduates are simply turning their backs on the options available. GPs now tell their children studying medicine that a career in general practice is no longer viable, despite it being the backbone of everyday healthcare in this country.

Despite this, the health-related news headlines are taken up with petty political squabbles over extra services for local hospitals and other relatively minor matters.

It is imperative that the Government makes the agreement of a new GMS contract a priority, to help make general practice a viable, attractive career choice with fair arrangements for both doctors and patients. Talks have dragged on now over 2015 and this year with relatively little progress, with the under-sixes contract only serving to add to the workload burden of GPs.

While the NAGP and potentially other parties will be involved in the next round of talks, it is vital that this more inclusive approach does not serve to delay the drafting of a new full contract and a sense of expediency is injected into proceedings. 

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