I propose to take Questions Nos. 298, 299, 300 and 301 together.
The Government is aware of the workforce issues facing general practice, including those affecting rural areas, and has implemented a range of measures in recent years 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.
The recent Agreement on GP contractual reforms will see an increase in expenditure on GP services of €210 million annually by 2023, providing significant increases in capitation fees for participating GPs, and increases in supports for rural practices and practices in urban areas of deprivation.
Improved family friendly arrangements are an important feature of the revised contractual arrangements, with an increase in the locum rate for maternity and paternity cover, and an increase in the paternity leave allowance from 3 days to 2 weeks. This is in recognition of the need to ensure that general practice is compatible with doctors’ family commitments.
In addition, the number of medical graduates undertaking GP training has increased from 120 in 2009 to 192 filled places in 2019, with a further increase expected next year. In a recent press release, the Irish College of General Practitioners stated it had received the highest ever number of applications for its 2020 GP training programme.
Currently there are almost 2,500 GPs contracted to provide services under the GMS Scheme and as at 1 December, 25 panels, or approximately 1%, are vacant. There are no GMS GP vacancies in Newbridge, Athy, Monasterevin, or Kildare town.