Additional 40 family doctors to be trained each year

Boost intended to ensure supply of doctors for further roll-out of free GP care

Minister for Health Leo Varadkar:  “This will create more opportunities for young doctors to stay in Ireland and will also allow us to add to the number of GPs in the country.”  Photograph: Dara Mac Dónaill/The Irish Times

Minister for Health Leo Varadkar: “This will create more opportunities for young doctors to stay in Ireland and will also allow us to add to the number of GPs in the country.” Photograph: Dara Mac Dónaill/The Irish Times

 

Up to 40 extra family doctors are to be trained each year to ensure a supply of doctors for the further roll-out of free GP care. The number of GP training places is being increased from 159 to 172 from this summer, following agreement between the Health Service Executive and the Irish College of General Practitioners (ICGP). Provision is being made for a further rise in training places to 200 a year as early as 2017.

Agreement in principle has also been reached for the college to take over the training of GPs from the HSE and a service-level agreement is being drawn up. The talks, which have taken years to complete, were facilitated by the Department of Health.

The Government was criticised at the start of the election campaign for failing to increase the number of GP training places while stimulating demand through the introduction of free GP care for under-sixes and over-70s.

Medical organisations have warned of an approaching “GP famine” due to rising doctor emigration, massive increase in patient visits due to free GP care and large numbers of retirements in the coming years.

The number of GP training places was last increased in 2010, when it went from 129 to 157. It will take four years for the additional doctors to become available, as trainees spend two years in hospitals followed by two years in general practice.

Minister for Health Leo Varadkar and Minister of State for Primary Care Kathleen Lynch welcomed the agreement with the ICGP. “This will create more opportunities for young doctors to stay in Ireland and will also allow us to add to the number of GPs in the country,” Mr Varadkar said.

“This is crucial to ensure the capacity is there for GPs and primary care to take on additional responsibilities, including free GP care for children between the ages of six to 18, and the management of chronic diseases within the community rather than in hospital as the norm rather than the exception.”

Ms Lynch said the extra doctors would be helpful in providing free GP care for all, as promised by Labour.

Fine Gael has promised in its manifesto to increase the number of GP training places by 100 over the next five years. Labour says it will recruit 1,426 new GPs, while Fianna Fáil says it will increase GP numbers by 250 by 2021.

It costs an estimated €350,000 to train a GP over the four years. At present, the HSE pays for the running of 14 training schemes around the State, each with their own programme director, assistant directors and administrator. Mr Varadkar said last month that, given the high rate of retirements in the profession, the next government would have to hire 500 new GPs “just to stand still”.

The two Government parties differ in their approach to free GP care. Fine Gael has committed itself to rolling it out to children under 18 in the next administration, while Labour has promised to extend it to the entire population.