ICGP calls for working group ahead of free GP extension

The Irish College of General Practitioners said extending free medical care to an additional 400,000 patients in the 2023 budget could result in more than 640,000 additional consultations each year.

He said most GP practices in urban and rural Ireland are unable to accept new patients, against a “growing workforce and workload crisis”.

The group asks the Minister of Health to set up a working group “as a matter of urgency” if this extension is to continue.

A 2021 survey of its members found that almost three-quarters (74%) of GPs could not take new private patients, while almost eight in ten (79%) could not take new patients with medical card.

The ICGP is holding its autumn conference in Dublin today, where a discussion paper on “The Workforce and Workload Crisis” is being launched.

The document includes ten proposals for solutions to the challenges facing the sector.

These include a proposal to double the number of GP nurses, an expansion of GP-led multi-disciplinary teams, a rapid tracking process for suitably qualified GPs from outside the EU, the provision of suitable premises, an incentive scheme to attract GPs to rural Ireland and increased exposure to general medicine in medical schools.

The Department of Health said the government had committed to “significant additional resources” for the GP sector, which it said would make it more sustainable and increase the number of GPs.

“Additional resources provided include increased capitation fees for GPs, support for practices in rural and deprived urban areas, and allocation of resources to implement the chronic disease management program” , the statement said.

The department said it and the HSE had started ‘preparatory work on a strategic review of general practice as part of the 2019 GP agreement’, which will look at a wide range of issues and set out measures to provide sustainable general medicine.

“It is expected that the ICGP will make a significant contribution to the review. The ICGP has made and will continue to make a vital contribution to the provision of general practice in this country,” he said.

While the ICGP welcomed the review, Professor Tom O’Dowd urged the Minister of Health to set up a task force “as a matter of urgency, if the extension of free medical care is to continue”.

There are currently 4,257 doctors working in general medicine.

While the number of new trainees entering the system has increased in recent years, a quarter of current GPs are over 60 and due to retire in the coming years.

The ICGP said practices are busier than ever, but are less able to find replacements for retiring GPs or new GPs to expand growing practices.

This is something Dr. Sinéad Cronin knows well.

The Drumcondra native 18 months ago with her husband took over a 40-year-old GP practice in the area, caring for around 4,000 patients.

However, the practice is now beginning to show the symptoms of a system-wide disease – a shortage of GPs.

“We turn down between five and ten new patients every day who ask to join the practice. It’s something we don’t like to do, we want to be able to take care of everyone, but we physically can’t,” she says.

The practice is also currently caring for a small number of patients who have left Dublin but have been unable to find a new GP in the rural areas in which they currently live.

“We are in a position where we still have to provide care for these patients until they find a new GP, which we are happy to do, but it is not ideal from a health perspective. patient safety, and that also means we can’t take patients living in the area, which is what GP is all about.”

Dr Cronin said she is struggling to find other doctors to help with the workload and has only one application to join the practice when she leaves in maternity leave at Christmas.

She said it is difficult for young doctors to enter general practice because there is a big financial burden and very little support to take over a practice.

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