Funding our GP service

Although 700 Irish doctors graduate each year, the percentage of Irish doctors on the Medical Council register continues to fall

Although some 700 Irish doctors graduate from the six medical schools in Ireland each year, the percentage of Irish doctors on the Medical Council register continues to fall. Photograph: Thinkstock

Although some 700 Irish doctors graduate from the six medical schools in Ireland each year, the percentage of Irish doctors on the Medical Council register continues to fall. Photograph: Thinkstock

 

Improving the image of GPs and getting more lower-income students to study medicine are the solutions to the growing shortage of doctors, a leading UK medical educator has said. Prof Val Wass, author of a recent UK GP workforce report By choice and not by chance, told The Irish Times that negative views about a career in general practice are creating a “huge problem” in Britain where too few young people are choosing to work in medicine. Even within the profession, GPs have reported widespread negative views of their career choice.

However, a shortage of doctors needed to staff health systems here and in the UK goes beyond a paucity of GPs. A report last year by the Health Workforce Research Group of the Royal College of Surgeons in Ireland found that, although some 700 Irish doctors graduate from the six medical schools in Ireland each year, the percentage of Irish doctors on the Medical Council register continues to fall.

While contract negotiations require time, it is imperative that Government implement an early, and at least partial, reversal of these cuts

A key driver of this trend, according to the report, is a high rate of emigration among graduates of Irish medical schools, attracted by better working conditions, training and career opportunities in other English-speaking countries. Many may never return and we are now locked into a spiral of overworked doctors, vacant posts and an unsustainable system where work demand far exceeds available resources.

According to Wass, GP pay is not a major factor in the UK manpower shortage. That is not the case in Ireland, however. An out of date contract for the provision of services to medical card patients and an almost 40 per cent cut to payments and allowances has made running a practice economically unsustainable for many doctors. While contract negotiations require time, it is imperative that Government implement an early, and at least partial, reversal of these cuts.

The provision of €810 million to construct additional primary care facilities, under Project Ireland 2040, is welcome but does not address our medical manpower crisis. It requires separate urgent intervention.

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