There are many commitments in the programme for Government to enhancing and implementing greater access to primary care services. At the centre of any primary care system is having enough general practitioners, GPs, in urban and rural areas. We all agree that the life of GPs is not an easy one. They spend long hours in surgery and in communities listening to, meeting and treating people of all ages at all times of the week. The Health Service Executive, HSE, planning office estimates that since the introduction of the GP visit card for children younger than six years, demand for GP consultations in this population will have increased by 65% in 2017 and by a further 42% by 2022.
This is also having an impact on patients' access to GPs. In some urban areas there are two to three-day waiting lists to see a GP, but the irony is that in many rural areas it is becoming more and more difficult to fill vacancies where a GP retires or moves to another location. The life of rural GPs has extra challenges because they are on call 24-7, living in the communities they serve.
The financial emergency measures in the public interest, FEMPI, cuts had a considerable impact on general practice and general practitioners. Allowances were cut by up to 38%. It is having a significant continuing impact on GP morale and on retaining people to work in general practice, which is resulting in GP shortages. According to the Irish College of General Practitioners, ICGP, there will be shortages in the order of 1,000 GPs in the next ten years and 36% of our current cohort of general practitioners are over the age of 55. The Irish Medical Organisation, IMO, which we met here last week, says there are 666 GPs over the age of 60 who will be retiring over the next five to seven years, of whom 244 will retire over the next two years.
Those statistics are real people, real lives, and people making choices about their own lives. They also represent a very vital community service that may be withdrawn or restricted. The Minister for Health and the Government are meeting this impending crisis in primary care with their heads stuck in the sand. Where are we at and why is the Government continuing to delay discussions on FEMPI reversal for GPs when there has been progress across all other cohorts? Why is the Government not responding to the crisis of GP morale and recruitment? Will the Tánaiste confirm that the concerns of the GPs about the FEMPI cuts will be addressed and that there is a pathway for them to see a future, not just for themselves but for their communities?