Meath residents unable to get a GP in the midst of shortage

By Eoin Ryan

In the midst of GP shortages across Ireland, some are unable to find one in their local areas that will take them on.

Irish citizens with a HSE medical card have a GP found for them after getting rejected by 3 practitioners but this is not the case for those using private healthcare.

A mother of two living in Navan found a GP for herself after six months of searching but has still not found a GP for her husband and two daughters after over a year and a half.

She has no HSE medical card which means she has zero support in finding a GP despite calling several local practitioners on a weekly basis.

“If you’re paying privately, basically there’s no route for you to take; it’s just up to you to find somewhere” got gp May 2021,” she said. “If things went wrong where would we be left without any medical help at all.”

She was not alone in her struggle, however, as her post in The Navan Community Board Facebook group had several replies from those in similar situations.

There is also no way of telling which GP’s have any availability with only notices online for those who are at full capacity.

This is an issue that will most likely only get worse as Ireland will need over 1,600 more to be recruited in order to meet population needs by 2028, according to the Irish College of General Practitioners (ICGP). It is estimated that 2,000 will be needed, however, when existing GP requirements are taken into account. There are currently 3,500 GPs in Ireland meaning a 45% increase in the number of current GPs is necessary to fix our current shortage. Ireland currently has an average of 0.69 GPs per 1,000 people where an average of between 1.02 and 1.1 GPs per 1,000 people is needed.

On top of this, ICGP has estimated that one fifth of GPs, over 700, are expected to retire in the next few years due to a large number being 65 years old or over.

Money is not the issue in terms of why there are less GP’s but instead that they are simply worked into exhaustion. A large proportion of GPs work from 8.30am to 6.30pm seeing patients, with only a half hour break for lunch in between. Paperwork could mean working into the night even after this. Ireland has 29% fewer GPs per person compared to the UK, meaning that current GPs have increasing workloads and responsibilities.

Labour Representative Eilish Balfe said that “It is a recruitment issue, they can not get GP’s” in the Ratoath area.” Younger GPs have zero incentives to start or go into partnerships in practices in rural areas where they are required to to provide 24/7 cover. Many working outside of large towns and cities are unable to find another GP to stand in for them while they are out, leaving many to work long hours and on weekends. Newly trained GPs face several obstacles to establishing practices, most in relation to high costs, such as funding premises, IT and acquiring medical equipment.

Cllr. Damien O’Reilly advised that if the government wishes to end this issue, they need to offer 10 year tax breaks to GP’s willing to open new family practitioners to incentivise them into opening new practices with initial huge capital expenditure. He added that similar tax breaks should be given to anyone who will open new creches during the child care crisis.

ICGP is currently training 846 trainee GPs as part of a four-year National GP Training Programme. They said it is currently working with the HSE to increase the training places from 258 spots in 2022 to 350 spaces by 2026.

This issue, though rampant across the country, is especially problematic for those in Meath due to the planned reconfiguration of Our Lady’s Hospital in Navan. The current Emergency department is to be replaced by a Medical Assessment Unit (MAU) and extra capacity will be given to Drogheda Hospital’s department. 

MAU’s are a relatively new concept that are used to reduce A&E department delays and reduce attendance by as much as 60%. This service requires a GP referral, however, in the midst of a GP shortage. It also means that those who can not get a GP will be unable to use the MAU and will have to use Drogheda Hospital’s A&E department for even slight issues. Couple this with an average wait time of over ten  Our Lady of Lourdes Hospital in Drogheda and long wait times may be a pressing issue for those unable to source a GP.

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