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.
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. There has also been a huge expansion in the number of training places on GP training programmes in recent years; up from 120 places in 2009 to 192 filled in 2019.
In addition, the recent Agreement on GP contractual reforms will benefit patients and GPs. In return for cooperation with a range of service developments and reforms, the Government will increase investment in general practice by approximately 40% (€210 million) over the next four years. This will see significant increases in capitation fees for GPs who participate in the reform programme and the introduction of new fees and subsidies for additional services such as the chronic disease programme.
There will be increased support for GPs working in rural practices and for those in disadvantaged urban areas. Improvements in the maternity and paternity leave arrangements have also been agreed, in recognition of the need to ensure that general practice is compatible with doctors’ family friendly commitments. I am confident that these measures help make general practice more sustainable and a more attractive career option for doctors.
There is also a need, in the Government’s view, for a longer-term strategic review of how general practice should operate within the health service, well into the future. Therefore, during the lifetime of this Agreement my Department will lead a strategic review of general practice with a view to developing a new contractual framework which best supports patients and encourages innovation in primary care. This will be a wide-ranging task and it will, I hope, enable further innovative measures to be developed for the benefit of citizens and of course for GPs.
In relation to GP availability in mid-County Louth, as this is a service issue I have asked the HSE to respond directly to the Deputy in relation to this matter.