Single-practice GPs are struggling to find locums, so it is difficult for them take summer holidays.
Some GPs have to work while sick, because there is no one to cover for them.
The National Association of General Practitioners, which represents 1,600 GPs, said Irish general practice was at “exhaustion point”.
Limerick GP and NAGP president, Dr Emmet Kerin, said the severe shortage in the availability of locums, to cover summer leave, was symptomatic of the wider issue of the shortfall in GP numbers nationwide.
“It is crucial for GPs, like all workers, to be able to take annual leave to avoid burnout, but the current environment is making that basic necessity impossible to fulfil, particularly for single-handed practitioners,” said Dr Kerin.
Former Independent TD, Dr Jerry Cowley, said he worked when he was sick because he had no choice — his patients had to be seen.
“GPs often miss important family occasions, like christenings and funerals, because they can’t find someone to cover them,” said Dr Cowley.
He added that the Health Service Executive locum allowance would not “even nearly” cover the cost of hiring a locum.
Dr Gary Stack, a GP in Killarney, Co Kerry, said that vacant GP posts could not be filled, because the remuneration did not match the heavy workload.
“I see GPs posting on forums, in desperation to find a locum to cover their leave. The biggest issue is if a GP gets a long-term illness, or in single-handed practices where there is no colleague to rely upon,” said Dr Stack.
A source in a locum agency said it had become “exceptionally difficult” to find a locum, particularly for single-handed practitioners.
Most surgeries were making the same locum request to several companies to increase their chances.
“I would estimate that 80% of requests are filled for out-of-hours shifts, but only 33% of requests to cover a day surgery are filled,” the source said.
An Irish College of General Practitioners’ survey, published last November, highlighted the extent of the crisis in general practice.
It found that only 44% of GPs who had tried to hire a locum in the past year were able to do so on more than half of those occasions, and rural GPs were less successful. Last May, the NAGP welcomed the plan, in the Programme for Government, to increase GP capacity. It welcomed the exploration of salaried GP posts in rural areas and deprived urban regions.
Dr Kerin highlighted the capacity crisis in general practice, with 915 GPs set to retire or emigrate in the next three to five years.
The document promised additional GP-training places, but world-class GPs are being trained for export and it failed to address this. “These young GPs are emigrating, due to already unacceptable work arrangements in Ireland,” he said.
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