Ceisteanna — Questions. Oral Answers. - Vocational Training Scheme Places for General Practice.

16.

asked the Minister for Health the number of vocational training scheme places for general practice available to doctors who wish to go into this area; the number of applicants for such places; if he has any plans to increase the number of available places; and if he will make a statement on the matter.

74.

asked the Minister for Health the proposals he has to ensure that an adequate number of vocational training places in general practice is made available in this country; if he will increase the number of places from the current level of 28 to the required number of 70 places per year; and, if so, when.

I propose to take Questions Nos. 16 and 74 together.

There are currently 29 places available annually in vocational training schemes for general practice. Each scheme involves training over a three year period, two years of which are spent in appropriate hospital posts and the third year in a training practice. The cost of salaries and overheads, other than in respect of hospital posts which would arise in any event, are met by the relevant health board. Each scheme is managed by a training committee representative of the various interests involved, while the Irish College of General Practitioners supervises the academic content of training. Information is not available as to the net number of applicants for places on training schemes.

I have had discussions with the Irish College of General Practitioners on the question of expanding the provision of training places. While the college argue that a provision of 70 places annually is desirable, it is accepted that increases in provision must be phased and that a number of important issues about the future, structure and organisation of vocational training need to be resolved. For that reason, I have arranged to convene a special workshop within the next month involving all of the interests involved to examine the issues raised by the question of expansion of the number of available places. I am sure that this will provide an opportunity for all of the relevant issues to be explored and I hope to be in a position to make decisions about the future of vocational training when I have had a chance to consider the outcome of that workshop.

Would the Minister agree that we do not need to commence another consultative process in order to find out what is needed? What is required is 70 places per annum. Is the Minister not aware that many of our potential GPs are having to go to Britain for training and in some cases the circumstances surrounding their training are less than satisfactory?

I accept that there are doctors from this country working in Britain while others are studying for general practice. I do not accept that we should not hold a one day meeting with all of the various interests involved because there are many factors to be considered. I have met on a number of occasions with representatives of the Irish College of General Practitioners and they seem to be very pleased that we are holding this workshop involving all of the other interests, including the health boards. I hope progress will be made.

Will the Minister give a commitment that from next year onwards 70 places will be made available each year? This would solve the problem. Will the Minister give a commitment to move in that direction?

Following the workshop, I will look at the position. The thrust of our policy is to have an adequate number of places made available. This will be done on a phased basis.

Deputy De Rossa rose.

I observe that the backbenchers have arrived to protect the Minister.

Please, Deputy Mitchell.

(Interruptions.)

The Deputy is the man who is illiterate.

Can the Minister confirm if a decision has been made that GPs entering the State's health services will have to have a vocational training course completed by 1995 and does he agree that in those circumstances the number of places available needs to be dramatically increased in order to meet that demand?

I accept that. A directive adopted in 1986 makes it necessary for all general practitioners to have completed such training after 1 January 1995.

Would the Minister accept, therefore, that there has to be a dramatic increase in the number of places made available for vocational training, even as high, as Deputy Yates said, as 70 places per annum and that the holding of a meeting or a workshop is simply a delaying tactic?

I would not accept that the holding of a workshop in two weeks' time is a delaying tactic. At present there are 29 places available and the number entering general practice is approximately 50 per annum. We intend to increase the number.

Does the Minister intend to provide adequate vocational training facilities in the immediate future so that we can comply with the EC directive, or is he satisfied that having to go for vocational training abroad is to be the norm?

I made it clear in my reply that it is our policy to increase the numbers so that sufficient places will be available to enable us to comply with the EC directive. As I said, the number entering general practice at present is 50. Twenty-nine are being trained at present.