Exclusion of doctors’ group from GP contract talks ‘nuts’

GP association warns Oireachtas health committee of ‘monumental’ manpower crisis

Over 1,000 Irish-trained GPs went to work in the UK alone between 2009 and 2013 and have not come back, according to the National Association of GPs

The biggest organisation representing GPs will play no direct part in crucial negotiations on a new contract for family doctors, an Oireachtas committee has heard.

The negotiations on a new GP contract will take place between the Irish Medical Organisation (IMO), whose membership includes 1,600 GPs, and the Department of Health and the HSE.

However, the National Association of GPs, which represents 1,900 family doctors, will not be directly involved in the negotiations, though it will be consulted, the Oireachtas health committee was told.

The fact that talks would take place without "everyone being in the room" was described by Labour TD Alan Kelly as "absolutely bananas" and "nuts". He said the committee should make a recommendation that both representative bodies be present for the negotiations.


Dr Padraig McGarry, chairman of the IMO GP committee, said the department had informed his organisation that the contract would be negotiated exclusively with the IMO, and the National Association of GPs would be involved “on a consultative basis”.

“Getting involved in an argument with representative bodies doesn’t further anything here,” he said.

Dr Emmet Kerin, chairman of the National Association of GPs, said it was seeking clarification from the department on the issue. Half of all newly-trained GPs were emigrating as a medical manpower crisis "of monumental proportions" unfolded.

He said over 1,000 Irish-trained GPs went to work in the UK alone between 2009 and 2013, and had not come back.

Growing shortage

Dr Brendan O’Shea of the Irish College of GPs said Irish general practice had reached a “tipping point” in the winter of 2015 and was now in crisis. He warned of a growing shortage of community-based family doctors unless urgent action was taken to attract and retain GPs, especially in rural and deprived areas.

He said an additional 1,500 GPs and 3,000 practice nurses were needed to bring Irish staffing levels in primary care up to UK levels.

Louise O’Reilly of Sinn Féin asked if it would not make more sense for GPs to be directly employed by the HSE and thereby relieved of the administrative burden of running a small business.

Dr Karena Hanley of the Irish College of GP replied that productivity could be up to 20 per cent higher using privately-employed doctors providing loyalty and continuity of care.

Ms O’Reilly said she did not accept this. “Changing the name of the payslip wouldn’t diminish their loyalty and productivity, but it would alleviate the business-burden involved in running a small business.” Handing back the “hassle” to the HSE was “a bit of a no-brainer”.

Dr O’Shea said the primary care centre in Newbridge used both HSE and private physiotherapists. It could take over 12 weeks to see the HSE physio while the private physios saw patients the following day. As a result patients’ perceptions of the HSE service were lower.

Paul Cullen

Paul Cullen

Paul Cullen is a former heath editor of The Irish Times.