The number of GP training places is to be ramped up over the next 18 months as part of efforts to tackle what has been described as a “workforce and workload crisis” in general practice.
It is estimated that there is a shortfall of 2,000 GPs in Ireland and many doctors are approaching retirement age and delays in getting an appointment to see a doctor is already a concern in parts of the country.
Under plans being announced on Friday, the number of GP training places is to rise from an intake of 258 in 2022 to 350 in 2024 – a 35 per cent increase.
Meanwhile, the capacity of the non-EU GP Training Scheme is to increase from 50 to 250 by the end of 2024 – a rise of some 400 per cent.
It comes following engagement between Minister for Health Stephen Donnelly and the Irish College of General Practitioners (ICGP) earlier this year to explore increasing GP training places.
Mr Donnelly said he is committed to increasing the medical workforce and he described the planned extra GP training places as “very good news for patients”.
HSE Chief Executive Bernard Gloster said: “This most welcome development is the single biggest improvement for the future resourcing of one of the most vital components of health services for the people. We will take every opportunity to ensure the growth of general practice across the country.
The non-EU GP Training Scheme is aimed at attracting doctors from countries like South Africa to work in established GP practices in rural Ireland.
Under the terms of the programme they work under the supervision of a mentor GP for two years as they prepare to take the exams that will allow them to become fully qualified to practise in the Irish system.
More than 20 such doctors are already working in GP practices around the country.
Mr Donnelly said these are “highly experienced and skilled GPs from around the world”.
ICGP chief executive Fintan Foy welcomed the planned increase in training places.
He said: “The workforce and workload crisis in General Practice is affecting patients who have to wait longer to see their GP, as well as thousands of patients who are unable to register with a GP practice.
“We need more GPs and this increase in training places is a significant measure to enable more doctors to become GPs here in Ireland.”