Tuesday 22 January 2019

Exodus of medics leaves communities without GP service

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Eilish O'Regan

Eilish O'Regan

The exodus of Irish-educated medical graduates is draining the health service of much-needed doctors in hospitals and the community, where some GP surgeries are having to turn patients away.

The lack of interest by so many doctors in consultant jobs in Irish hospitals was described as "utterly shocking" by one of the country's leading health chiefs.

Leo Kearns, chief executive of the Royal College of Physicians, said he found it incredible that 84 positions for full-time hospital consultants were advertised in 2016, but in 51 cases there were two or fewer applicants.

In 22 cases there was only a "single applicant", and no appointment was made in 22 instances, he told the annual conference of the Irish Medical Organisation (IMO).

It comes as Health Minister Simon Harris, who is to address the gathering of doctors this evening, is expected to finally announce that talks on a new contract for GPs are set to begin in the coming weeks.

Referring to the failure to attract doctors to hospital posts, Mr Kearns said: "This is extraordinary. Talk about Ireland being at the leading edge or being first class.

"We never really in recent history had difficulty in attracting people into these types of roles in Ireland. And now we are. We absolutely are."

He pointed out that there are 20 areas of the country without a permanent GP.

"We aspire to a world-class health system. But I think we have a Trojan horse in the middle of it which is going to undermine that aspiration and expectation very significantly."

Mr Harris is to confirm that talks with the IMO on Fempi cuts as well as a new GP contract will begin in the coming weeks.

Mr Harris, who has overseen record numbers of patients on hospital waiting lists and people on hospital trolleys this winter, is expected to tell the doctors' union this evening that he has briefed his Cabinet colleagues about the imminent start of GP contract talks.

The talks were supposed to have been completed last year and headway made at this stage on extending more care of patients in the community, taking some of the pressure off hospitals.

However, the talks look set to drag on for months.

Significant increases in general practice are expected to be pledged, although the full cost has yet to be revealed.

It is expected that if medical card fees to GPs which were cut in the recession are to be restored the bill could be €120m.

Irish Independent

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