GPs play a crucial role in the provision of primary care services. The number of GPs on the specialist register continues to increase – up from 2,270 in 2010 to 3,669 in 2018 and the number of GPs with a GMS contract has also risen from 2,098 in 2008 to 2,508 as at 1 October 2018.
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.
GP training places have been increased from 120 in 2009 to 193 in 2018 and the Government's objective is to continue to achieve annual increases in the number of training places available while ensuring that all of the places are filled.
Further efforts to increase the number of practising GPs include changes to the entry provisions of the GMS scheme to accommodate more flexible GMS contracts and the retirement age has been extended to 72. In May 2016 an enhanced support package for rural practices was introduced with improved qualifying criteria and an increased financial allowance of €20,000 per annum. 257 GP practice units encompassing 347 individual GPs are now in receipt of financial supports under this framework, a significant increase on the 167 GPs who received a rural practice allowance prior to the introduction of the 2016 measures.
The Government remains committed to the continued development of GP capacity to ensure that patients across the country continue to have access to GP services and that general practice remains an attractive career option in all areas.
Officials from my Department and the HSE recently re-engaged with the Irish Medical Organisation to set out the State's position in relation to reform of the GMS contract. Agreement on the delivery of service improvements and contractual reform has the potential to facilitate a substantial increase in the resourcing of general practice on a multiannual basis.
The Deputy will understand that it would not be appropriate at this stage of the process to discuss the proposed package of reform and associated funding which has not yet been agreed.