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Government claim 350 new entrant training places will be available this year. Alamy Stock Photo
GP Access

Government to counter bill calling to boost the number of GPs in rural areas

The Government’s countermotion instead recognises the increase level of funding it has introduced to the healthcare system within its term.

GOVERNMENT WILL COUNTER the Rural Independents Group’s Private Members Bill on access to GP care across Ireland to instead recognise the increased level of funding it has introduced for the doctors within its term.

The original bill, which was due to be put before the Dáil later today, called on Government to boost the number of General Practitioner (GPs) doctors available in rural Ireland.

It claimed that two thirds of the country’s GPs are unable to take on new patients. It added that there are two-week waits for appointments in those regions.

Tipperary Independent TD Mattie McGrath said Government has “turned a blind eye” to GPs and other healthcare workers in rural Ireland.

McGrath said: “General Practice is under immense strain, yet the Minister for Health and the government have failed to act.”

“We must establish a high-level, ministerial, working group to devise immediate, medium-term, and long-term solutions. The current Dublin-centric approach is neglecting rural healthcare, and that must change,” he added.

Elsewhere in the bill, it calls on Government to fill vacant GP positions in rural areas, introduce salaried GP positions and develop long-term strategies to attract younger people from rural areas to the profession.

McGrath described GPs as the “backbone of Ireland’s healthcare system” but added that the services are “crumbling under the weight of neglect and indifference”.

“We are determined to reverse this trend and ensure that every rural community has access to the healthcare services they deserve,” he added.

In the Government’s countermotion, which will now replace the Rural Independent Group’s bill, it also acknowledges GPs as the “backbone” of the healthcare system.

It claims that increased funding for the cohort – introduced under the current coalition – reflects that.

Health minister Stephen Donnelly’s motion details that additional funding has increased from €561 million in 2019 to just over €800 million in Budget 2024. This funding was for entire healthcare system and has been a point of debate among TDs since October as opposition claims the HSE has been underfunded.

The bill details that the 2019 GP Agreement increased the Rural Practice Grant – available to GPs in rural areas – by 10%. The scheme also opened applications for a GP training programme this year, which 1,311 medical graduates applied for.

The bill also claims that the number of doctors entering GP training has almost tripled from 120 in 2009 to 286 in 2023. This year, 350 new entrant training places will be available.

The bill also points to research, undertaken by the Department of Health, which indicates that for every GP retiring over the next four years, 1.5 to 3 GPs will enter practice. 

The motion will be discussed in the Dáil later today.

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