I welcome the Minister of State at the Department of Health and Children, Deputy John Moloney, to the House to give details of the Government's recent announcement to increase the number of general practitioner, GP, places in the medical school system, a long overdue decision. It is a correct decision to increase the level of training for GPs when finances are available at the earliest opportunity. It is also important when one considers the home and community-orientated direction international best practice has taken in the delivery of primary medical care to patients. With the advances in, for example, keyhole surgery and other medical practices, people tend to spend less time in hospital and more time recovering at home.
The precursor to all of this is the necessity for a much more enhanced level of primary care. The GP, therefore, is the medical person best positioned to decide on the care of any particular patient. The practice, heretofore, where GPs were under high levels of stress and pressure, was to refer patients to a hospital environment for further investigation or treatment. International best practice indicates this is not best way. There is a need for much more of the work to be done in the community to ensure the best outcome for the patient.
The Government aims to increase primary care centres in the environs of doctors' surgeries, at which more diagnostics can be done in the community. It follows there will be a requirement for a greater number of GPs. It is welcome that the Government will increase the number of GPs. It recognises the greater degree of interest from GPs to perform much more of this work in their communities as they wish to develop primary care centres
It is interesting that the Finance Bill has been passed because, while not relevant to this discussion, there is a desire among groups of general practitioners for favourable taxation measures to ensure the development of these centres. They will not happen on their own or out of the blue. There is a requirement to assist doctors and investors to ensure the facilities are built and the necessary equipment is provided so these procedures can be carried out in the community. In welcoming the Government proposal to increase the participation of students at training level, I ask the Minister of State to outline the proposals to ensure an even spread of GPs throughout the country. As places become available, they should not be concentrated only in large centres of population. It is important that rural areas get a fair crack of the whip.
I give credit to the difficult work GPs do in the community in attempting to work within the change in policy of having more work done in the community. I pay tribute to the efforts GPs are making and the pressure they are under to deliver that. We owe a tremendous debt of gratitude for those who managed to deal with the reconfiguration programme in the system. They continue to provide an exemplary and exceptional service to the communities. The provision of extra places and extra GPs will help to lift the considerable burden many GPs are under.