The Government is aware of workforce issues facing general practice, including the influence of demographic factors, and has implemented a number of measures to improve recruitment and retention in general practice.
These 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. Enhanced supports for rural GP practices have also been introduced. There has also been a huge expansion in the number of training places on GP training programmes in recent years; up from 120 places in 2009 to 193 filled in 2018.
It is acknowledged that there are many challenges in general practice. That is why my Department and the HSE has been engaging with GP representatives on the development of a package of measures and reforms to modernise the current GMS contract.
I am pleased that agreement has now been reached with the Irish Medical Organisation on a major package of GP contractual reforms which will benefit patients and GPs. In return for cooperation with the service developments and reforms, the Government will increase investment in general practice by approximately 40% (€210 million) over the next four years. This will see significant increases in capitation fees for GPs who participate in the reform programme and the introduction of new fees and subsidies for additional services such as the chronic disease programme.
There will be increased support for GPs working in rural practices and for those in disadvantaged urban areas. Improvements in the maternity and paternity leave arrangements have also been agreed, in recognition of the need to ensure that general practice is compatible with doctors’ family friendly commitments.
I am confident that these measures help make general practice more sustainable and help make general practice a more attractive career option for doctors.