Pay ‘not the issue’ behind declining doctor numbers

Image change and wider recruitment of medical students needed to reverse decline

Negative views about a career in general practice are creating a “huge problem” in the UK, a conference in Galway will be told. Photograph: iStock

Negative views about a career in general practice are creating a “huge problem” in the UK, a conference in Galway will be told. Photograph: iStock

 

Improving the image of GPs and getting more working-class students to study medicine are the solutions to the growing shortage of doctors, a conference in Galway is to be told.

In contrast, pay is not a major factor in the problem, according to retired medical educator Prof Val Wass.

She says negative views about a career in general practice are creating a “huge problem” in the United Kingdom where too few young people are choosing a career in medicine.

This in turn is creating a catch-22 situation where the negativity about the pressures on GPs is feeding into a shortage of doctors, which in turn adds to the pressures.

She is one of a number of speakers due to address a conference on general practice to be held this week at NUI Galway.

Prof Wass was chair of a UK committee that reported in 2016 on how to address the shortage of medical graduates who choose to become GPs.

The pay GPs receive is a not a huge factor in the problem, Prof Wass told The Irish Times.

In the UK GPs feel they are overstretched and under-valued. They feel overwhelmed with their workload, she says. This is dissuading people from pursuing the career.

Problem

It is a difficult problem to solve but one way out is to increase the positive image of being a general practitioner. “We really need to change the image of the GP, in schools and in the media.”

Increasing the class pool for medical students is another focus. Two-thirds of second-level schools in the UK have never sent a student to medical school.

Prof Wass is to address the conference on the changing nature of GP care, with changing demographics and other factors feeding into new challenges for the profession. She said there is a “huge debate” going on about how much knowledge a doctor needs to have in his or her head, when so much information is available on smartphones.

“There is a type of loss of power for doctors because of all the information that is on the internet.” One of the roles GPs now is to help patients work through the information that is available to them.

Prof Liam Glynn, a GP and chair of general practice at the University of Limerick, is also to address the conference.

Ireland trains a huge number of doctors, very many of whom emigrate because of the uncertainties here about their career. To his mind the biggest difficulty is the out of date contract that exists for GPs providing care to medical card holders.