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Health | GP vacancies and replacements

To ask the Minister for Health the extent to which efforts are being made to replace GPs where the incumbents have retired leaving vacancies throughout the country; the number of such vacancies; and if he will make a statement on the matter.

GPs are self-employed practitioners and therefore may establish practices at a place of their own choosing. There is no prescribed ratio of GPs to patients and the State does not regulate the number of GPs that can set up in a town or community.

Under the GMS scheme, the HSE contracts GPs to provide medical services without charge to medical card and GP visit card holders. Where a vacancy arises in a practice with a GMS contract, the HSE becomes actively involved in the recruitment process to find a replacement GP. In the interim the HSE puts in place a locum or other appropriate arrangement to maintain GP services to the communities in question.

As of the 1st of October, there are 2,529 GPs contracted to provide services under the GMS Scheme. There were 25 GMS GP vacancies, approximately 1 percent of the total number of GMS panels. It is acknowledged that certain vacancies can be difficult to fill, often in rural areas. For this reason, in addition to the more general measures taken to increase the number of GPs in the State and the significant increases in investment into general practice, specific supports are in place to support GPs in rural areas.
Under the 2019 GP Agreement, the Government is increasing annual investment in general practice by approximately 40% (€210 million) between 2019 and 2023. The Agreement provides for an increase in capitation fees for GPs, additional services, improved family arrangements as well as a targeted €2 million fund to support to practices in deprived urban areas.
An enhanced supports package for rural GP practices was introduced previously to support rural GPs, these supports have been increased by 10% under the 2019 GP Agreement. In addition, practices in receipt of rural practice supports attract the maximum allowable rates for practice staff support subsidies and locum contributions for leave taking. Specific fees are also in place for dispensing doctors (who operate in rural areas), these have been increased by 28% under the Agreement.
A steady increase has been seen in the number of doctors entering GP training over recent years, rising from 120 in 2009 to 258 in 2022. Following, the transfer of GP training from the HSE to the Irish College of General Practitioners (ICGP), the ICGP aims to have 350 training places available for new entrants per year by 2026.
These measures will see an increase in the number of GPs working in the State, improving access to GP services for patients throughout the country.
My Department and the HSE are preparing to commence shortly a strategic review of GP services to examine how best to ensure the provision of GP services in Ireland for the future. The review will examine the broad range of issues affecting general practice in general and in rural areas specifically, and will set out the measures necessary to deliver a sustainable general practice.

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