Offaly headed for GP crisis as one quarter near retirement

Story by Olga Aughey

Thursday, 27th July, 2017 3:30pm

Offaly has been named as one of the counties that will be worst affected by the emerging crisis facing GPs as hundreds approach retirement age. New figures show that Offaly will lose at least 25pc of its GPs in the next seven years as many head towards retirement.

Rural practices, once known to attract mulitple applications for vacant positions, are failing to attract even one application as funding cuts of up to 38pc made under the Financial Emerency Legislation (Fempi), have severely hit service provision for general practitioners.

According to new figures obtained by the Irish Independent, 666 GPs are currently over the age of 60, while 244 of those over the age of 65. The average retirement age for GPs is 67.

Rural communities are now faced with the loss of family doctors, with locums filling in on rotation every four to six months, meaning the loss of personal knowledge of patients medical history.

There’s a real threat that GPs in the worst affected rural counties, such as Longford which is facing the loss of 40pc of GPs, Westmeath facing 30pc, and Leitrim - the highest - facing the loss of 50pc of its GPs, will not be replaced, meaning patients will have to travel greater distances to see a doctor.

With less and less young GPs there to replace retired GPs, choosing instead to go abroad for better working conditions, there is knock-on effect of “burnout” for the rural GP who cannot take a break.

That’s according to the president of the National Association of General Practicioners (NAGP) Dr Emmet Kerin.

“Especially in rural Ireland, there’s a long legacy of family history with GPs, it’s a special relationship and this cannot easily be replaced. We are hemorrhaging newly qualified doctors who are chosing to go abroad for better terms and conditions. It’s not about money, it’s about the Fempi cuts of 38% to general practices. That money wasn’t going into the GPs’s pockets, but to service provision, which it takes to run a general practice in rural areas.

"We are training our GPs for export while the HSE struggles to recruit GPs for vacant practices across the country."

The NAGP believe that without the reversal of FEMPI, along with a new General Medical Service (GMS) contract, medical graduates will no longer choose a career in general practice.

"General practice has reached breaking point. For the first time ever, 10 GP training places have remained unfilled in 2017. Training places would have been oversubscribed before FEMPI was imposed.

“Almost half of all GP trainees are seeking better opportunities abroad. Urgent and decisive action must be taken by the Government to address the shortage of GPs in Ireland," finished Dr Kerin.

Independent TD Mattie McGrath raised the crisis in the Dail, and said with 666 GPs over 60, and 244 of them over 65, "We are now even closer to the cliff edge with the viability of GP services in significant areas of the country at stake."

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