GP shortfall of 1,660 doctors predicted within six years 

GP shortfall of 1,660 doctors predicted within six years 

Some want business supports offered to new GPs to encourage them to set up especially in rural areas in the same way the IDA supports start-ups.

A “substantial number of people” around the country cannot find a GP due to a shortage of practices, the Oireachtas Health Committee has been told.

The HSE has predicted therecould be a shortfall of 1,660 GPs within six years, according to Cork GP Diarmuid Quinlan, medical director with the Irish College of General Practitioners (ICGP).

Business supports should be offered to new GPs to encourage them to set up especially in rural areas in the same way the IDA supports start-ups, the committee was told by the Irish Medical Organisation and the ICGP.

“We have a substantial number of people who have problems accessing a GP or are waiting a long time,” said Dr Quinlan.

We just do not have enough GPs to meet the current or future needs of our expanding and ageing population with highly complex care needs.

People who are “acutely unwell” are seen urgently, Dr John Farell, chair of the ICGP board said.

However, he added: “The reality is for a lot of practices there is a waiting time now of a couple of days to see your GP.” 

The number of GPs in training is increasing and should hit 350 by 2026, Dr Quinlan said.

Dr Madelaine Ni Dhalaigh of the IMO said shortages also impact on how long appointments are. She highlighted menopause treatment and mental health care as particularly in need of in-depth care.

She said funding cuts during the recession created “ a deep insecurity” in young GPs and made many reluctant to set up their own practices.

Social Democrats health spokesperson Roisin Shortall asked if there is a need for a new model to include some GPs working as employees.

Val Moran, IMO director of industrial relations, said surveys show GPs want to work independently but there are serious concerns around financing this.

High workload

“We have an average of 0.69 GPs per 1,000 population when we require between 1.02 and 1.1 GPs per 1,000 population,” he said, adding the workload in some areas is “unattractive”.

Dr Quinlan said for anyone working in out-of-hours services like SouthDoc in Cork and Kerry, they do a full day’s work, then an evening shift between 6pm and 11pm.

The out-of-hours services are used for routine care which has increased demand, he said, where in the past they were for emergencies only.

He said rural areas are particularly impacted, referring to how “fragile the GP ecosystem is in Clare”.

Many speakers raised the shortages of GP nurses, saying they did a lot of work during the pandemic with vaccinations and keeping screening programmes like Cervical Check going.

Dr Quinlan said there is no specific pathway to becoming a practice nurse, and that Ireland needs “substantially more nurses”.

The GP bodies argued increasing doctor numbers overnight is not practical, but if there were more healthcare assistants and more practice nurses this would give more patients faster access to medical care.

They pointed to the impact of the HSE giving direct access for GP patients to MRIs and other scans during the pandemic. 

This has decreased emergency department attendances by 74% for these patients, and more could be done with creative thinking like this, they argued.

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