Health Minister Simon Harris is set to make a fresh bid to convince GPs to move to isolated rural areas in return for state-paid salaried posts.
Mr Harris has confirmed he is to make the initiative, which could be in place as early as next year, a central plank of upcoming negotiations with doctors when talks on the new GP contract begin in November.
In an interview with the Irish Examiner, Mr Harris accepted that due to the recession and a growing number of GPs retiring from the profession, isolated rural communities are being left without basic primary care.
He said the Government must now consider creating state-paid salaried GP posts in the areas as soon as next year because the existing private practice model means these communities are being ignored.
“There are always going to be parts of this country where it may not be viable to establish a GP practice, but where a GP is needed.
“That is why I’ve said we want the GP contract negotiations to include the option, and I stress the word ‘option’, of a salaried GP.
“So for example, in parts of rural Ireland or indeed in certain parts of urban Ireland where people absolutely need GPs but it may not be viable to run that as a self-employed business, the State — the HSE — will step in and employ a salary.
“I’ve asked a number of GPs about it, people have different views, but in general people certainly believe as an option it’s worth including. What we are saying is that if the market can’t provide a GP, then I feel as minister for health there is a duty on me to put in place a policy that will,” he said.
While Mr Harris declined to explain how much the State will pay GPs to move to rural areas or how many communities are currently without a local doctor, the proposal is likely to cost taxpayers millions of euro extra a year.
A recent survey by the Irish Medical Council found large parts of the country are now struggling to attract GPs with Clare, Wexford, Monaghan and Offaly among the worst affected.
The issue formed a key part of the general election campaign in rural Ireland, with Independent TD Dr Michael Harty winning a seat in Clare on the back of the issue and a wider No Doctor, No Village, pressure group being established.
However, while some GP groups are in favour of the plan, it is unclear whether the terms provided by the Department of Health will be attractive enough to convince GPs to move to areas they previously avoided.
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