Up to 40 per cent more GPs are needed to resolve a “massive workforce crisis” in the profession, a conference on the future of healthcare delivery has been told.
Government plans to extend free GP care to children aged seven and eight will require the appointment of an additional 120 family doctors, said Dr Diarmuid Quinlan, medical director of the Irish College of General Practitioners.
Dr Quinlan said the workforce crisis in general practice was driven partly by a growing population. There was also a new layer of work generated by the Covid-19 pandemic, such as vaccination and the treatment of chronic conditions, he said.
The extension of free GP care to children aged seven and eight will result in an additional 750,000 consultations nationally, he said.
“That simple line in the budget has huge workload implications in general practice,” he told the annual St Luke’s symposium organised by the Royal College of Physicians in Ireland.
Since 2004, the number of HSE consultants has doubled, he said, while the private health sector workforce has grown substantially, he said. Yet, GP numbers are static, as older doctors retire and younger colleagues opt for “portfolio” careers.
Five per cent of current GPs are aged over 70, while 15 per cent are over 65, and the pandemic has accelerated retirement plans, Dr Quinlan added.
He said Ireland has some 40 per cent fewer GPs than Britain’s national health service feels it should have. With more GPs, doctors would be able to see patients for longer and conduct more chronic disease consultations.
Rural Ireland – the western seaboard in particular – has specific problems attracting and retaining GPs, he said. While there has been a massive increase in GP training over the past six years, there remains a “huge deficit” in numbers “which we cannot bridge anytime soon”.
Because it takes four years to train a GP, it will take five to seven years before substantial inroads are made on this deficit, he said.