General Practitioners play an important role in the primary care system. The number of GPs on the specialist register continues to increase – up from 2,270 in 2010 to 3,670 as of July 2018 and there are now 2,508 GPs contracted by the HSE under the GMS scheme compared to 2,098 in 2008. It should be noted that as at 1 September 2018 there were only 24 GMS panels that do not have a permanent GP in place – a vacancy rate of less than 1%.
Over the past 6 years, an average of 143 GPs per year entered the GMS scheme compared with an average of 111 GPs per year exiting the scheme for the same period. During 2016 and 2017, an average of 158 GPs per year entered the GMS Scheme compared with an average of 132 GPs per year exiting the scheme for the same period.
I would like to assure the Deputy of the Government's commitment to the continued development of GP capacity to ensure that patients across the country continue to have access to GP services and that general practice is sustainable in all areas into the future. I want to ensure that existing GP services are retained and that general practice remains an attractive career option for newly-qualified GPs.
The Government is aware of the manpower issues facing general practice and has taken steps to increase the number of GP training places. In 2009, there were 120 General Practice training places available and in 2018 193 training places were filled, an increase of around 60% over this nine year period. The Government is committed to achieving further increases in GP training places in future years, and ensuring that all places are filled, in order to meet the future manpower needs of general practice.
Further efforts undertaken in recent years to increase the number of practising GPs include changes to the entry provisions to the GMS scheme to accommodate more flexible/shared GMS/GP contracts, and to the retirement provisions for GPs under the GMS scheme, allowing GPs to hold GMS contracts until their 72nd birthday, as well as the introduction of an enhanced supports package for rural GP practices.
The Government is also committed to engaging with GP representatives on the development of a package of measures and reforms to modernise the current GMS contract. Agreement on the delivery of service improvements and contractual reform has the potential to facilitate a substantial increase in the resourcing of general practice on a multiannual basis.