Doctor shortage 'to leave more than 230,000 without GP care'

More than 230,000 patients will be left scrambling for a new GP, because of the looming retirement of hundreds of doctors, according to new research.

Approximately 700 doctors are due to retire in the next seven years, increasing the pressure on health clinics nationwide – many of which are already operating at maximum capacity.

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The Irish Patients’ Association (IPA) said it expects this will lead to the closure of 5pc of surgeries.

An analysis of CSO data carried out by the IPA found more than 238,093 patients will be without a doctor because of the retirements. It estimates there will also be 52 fewer doctors’ surgeries nationally, forcing patients to travel greater distances for care.

This will hit people with acute care needs most, IPA director Stephen McMahon said.

“Not only are they looking for a GP, but they also have disabilities and chronic illnesses. You will have more than 200,000 people looking for a GP but within that cohort are thousands of people with a disability and some of those will have chronic conditions.

“It is not just people getting sick with a headache who are affected but also people with serious health needs.

“We have already established half of GPs are not taking on new patients. On average, a practice has 4,000 registered patients. If 50 practices close, that leaves huge numbers of patients without a regular GP.”

It comes after the Sunday Independent last week revealed almost half of the country’s GPs are turning away new patients because they are operating at full capacity.

Mr McMahon said seeing a doctor will only get more difficult in future.

“On average a GP does 7,500 thousand consultations per year. If you have 20 GPs gone, that is 150,000 consultations that cannot happen.”

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The IPA analysis of CSO figures shows more than 32,000 of those who will be looking for a new GP because of the retirements are people with a disability. This includes 14,832 with a chronic illness.

The Irish College of General Practitioners (ICGP) has also raised concerns about the impact increasingly complex care needs have on the services doctors provide, especially for older people. Complex care needs mean longer consultations but the expansion of free care to children and the over-70s has led to difficulty delivering such services.

It has estimated we need 300 new GPs every year. The college has doubled the number of GP trainees in the past four years but this still falls short of delivering the required number. More than 190 are going into training this year. Recent surveys show approximately 10pc of GPs emigrate within two years of graduation because they are unhappy with the working conditions on offer here.

An ICGP spokeswoman said the Government must incentivise GPs to set up practices in rural areas and find innovative ways to encourage young doctors who have emigrated to return to Ireland.

“Practices in rural Ireland are finding it increasingly difficult to recruit locums or replacement GPs to enable them to take study or holiday leave. Younger GPs have indicated a preference to work in bigger practices in urban areas,” she said.

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