Health time bomb as hundreds of GPs to retire - and patients already turned away
Family doctors are being forced to turn away patients due to huge demand, with a new healthcare time bomb looming as hundreds of GPs prepare to retire.
The Irish Medical Organisation (IMO) warned it was increasingly hearing from GPs across the country who are unable to take on any additional public or private patients.
Meanwhile, more than 660 GPs who are currently serving communities are set to retire in the coming years, which will lead to major shortages, the IMO warned.
It predicted serious problems in counties such as Mayo, Kilkenny and Leitrim, where more than 40pc of the current GPs are due to retire soon.
Dr Padraig McGarry, chairman of the IMO GP Committee, told the Irish Independent that there is a health crisis "that has been building slowly and steadily for years".
He said: "It is now reaching a tipping point and it threatens the survival of our current model of general practice beyond the next couple of years."
He noted the huge increase in demand for GP services as our population ages and more people succumb to chronic illnesses.
"But even as ambitious plans are being hatched about the wonderful new services that GPs might provide in the future, the current service is collapsing under enormous strain and fewer and fewer young medical graduates are opting to make it their careers," he said.
"At the same time, over 660 current GPs will retire in the coming years which will lead to a chronic shortage of GPs just when the country needs them most."
Dr McGarry said there was a variety of factors which fed into the looming shortage of GPs, "but we firmly believe that a key factor has been the introduction of devastating cuts in payments to GP services since the financial crisis.
"The payments were introduced under the notorious Fempi legislation which - at a time of crisis - gave the Government exceptional powers to change existing payment arrangements and salaries across the public sector. But even while similar cuts were unwound across the economy as the financial situation improved, the cuts have remained in force in general practice.
"These payments were not used to pay salaries for GPs. They were used to support the extensive range of services that GPs provide to their patient populations.
"Without them, GPs have had to cut the services altogether or put their hands into their own reserves to try to subsidise them."
Health Minister Simon Harris recently said that negotiations on the new GP contract and Fempi are to get under way within weeks.
Dr McGarry said this was a welcome development but it must not be a token gesture, and that Fempi was a separate issue to the GP contract.
The IMO wants the reversal of what it claims has been a 38pc cut to family doctors' income under Fempi before any agreement can be struck.