I propose to take Questions Nos. 836 and 837 together.
Under the GMS scheme, the HSE contracts GPs to provide medical services without charge to medical card and GP visit card holders. Currently there are almost 2,500 GPs contracted to provide services under the GMS Scheme and as at 1 January,18 panels, or less than 1%, are vacant. Where a vacancy arises in a practice with a GMS contract, the HSE becomes actively involved in the recruitment process to find a replacement GP. There are currently no vacancies in New Ross.
Where a medical card or GP visit card holder experiences difficulty in finding a GP to accept him/her as a patient, or where the person has been removed from another GP's list or refused entry onto a GP's list, the HSE has the power to assign that person to a GP's GMS patient list.
People who do not hold a medical card or GP visit card access GP services on a private basis and can make enquiries directly to any GP practice they wish to register with. As private contractors, it is a matter for each individual GP to decide whether to accept additional private patients. Where a GP practice has a full list of patients and cannot take on new patients, patients should contact other GP practices in the surrounding areas.
The Government is aware of the workforce issues currently facing general practice, including the limited access to GP services in certain areas, and has implemented a number of measures to improve recruitment and retention in general practice.
These measures include an increase in investment in general practice by approximately 40% (€210 million) between 2019 and 2023 under the terms of the 2019 GMS GP Agreement GP. The Agreement provides for increased support for GPs working in rural practices and for those in disadvantaged urban areas, and for improvements to maternity and paternity leave arrangements. In addition, the number of GPs entering training has been increased steadily over the past ten years, rising from 120 in 2009 to 214 in 2020, with a further increase foreseen in 2021. The ICGP noted a record number of applications for the 2021 GP training programme.
These measures will see an increase in the number of GPs working in the State, improving access to GP services for patients throughout the country.