GPs are self-employed practitioners and therefore may establish practices at a place of their own choosing. The State does not regulate the number of GPs that can set up in a town or community.
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. It is acknowledged that certain rural GMS vacancies can be difficult to fill; at the start of this month there were 35 GMS GP vacancies, 19 of which were in rural areas. For this reason, in addition to the more general measures taken to increase the number of GPs in the State and the significant increases in investment into general practice, specific supports are in place to support GPs in rural areas.
Under the 2019 GP Agreement, the Government is increasing annual investment in general practice by approximately 40% (€210 million) between 2019 and 2023, with expenditure increased by €206 million already as of this year. The Agreement provides for an increase in capitation fees for GPs, additional services, improved family arrangements as well as a targeted €2 million fund to support to practices in deprived urban areas.
An enhanced supports package for rural GP practices was introduced previously to support rural GPs, these supports have been increased by 10% under the 2019 GP Agreement. In addition, practices in receipt of rural practice supports attract the maximum allowable rates for practice staff support subsidies and locum contributions for leave taking. Specific fees are also in place for dispensing doctors (who operate in rural areas), these have been increased by 28% under the Agreement.
A steady increase has been seen in the number of doctors entering GP training over recent years, rising from 120 in 2009 to 233 in 2021. Following the transfer of responsibility for GP training from the HSE to the Irish College of General Practitioners last year, 258 places are planned for this year and even further increases planned for the coming years.
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.