Cork GP crisis: Increase in patient demand for services not matched by doctor numbers

“The issue that we have at the moment is the age factor of GPs, there’s quite a number of them coming up to retirement age."
Cork GP crisis: Increase in patient demand for services not matched by doctor numbers

Acknowledging the issue, the Chief Officer of Cork Kerry Community Healthcare (CKCH) Michael Fitzgerald said there are a number of reasons for the current shortage of GPs.

A CORK GP has said that most GPs in Cork are at full capacity with some patients having difficulty securing an appointment.

Dr John Sheehan of Blackpool Bridge Surgery, who is also a Fianna Fáil councillor, said that GP practices in Cork, particularly on the northside of the city, have had to close their lists, with a high volume of patients leading to appointments filling up much faster.

His comments come following concerns on the issue being raised by councillors during a recent Regional Health Forum South meeting at Cork County Hall.

Acknowledging the issue, the Chief Officer of Cork Kerry Community Healthcare (CKCH) Michael Fitzgerald said there are a number of reasons for the current shortage of GPs.

“The issue that we have at the moment is the age factor of GPs, there’s quite a number of them coming up to retirement age.

“It’s also not in everyone’s interest to set themselves up as a self-employed business. That’s a whole different skill set and that may or may not be suited to some people now who are involved in the service."

INCREASED DEMAND

Dr Sheehan said that free GP visits for children under the age of six has also led to an increased demand in terms of visits to the GP.

“The interesting thing is that it brought the demand and level of visits up to the European norm,” he said.

“Most people don’t want to be going to the doctor and it shows that there was a need for that and people weren’t going to the doctor due to financial reasons or pressures. All of those things are all very good but they all lead to a demand for the service and the census figures showed a population of 5.1m people.

“I’m 55 now. The population has nearly doubled in my lifetime when the number of GPs hasn’t really increased. It had increased a bit but certainly not to match that,” he added.

“So all those things lead to an increase in demand and there’s about a third of GPs in some counties, in Kilkenny and Kerry, due to retire in the next five to 10 years so we have an ageing workforce, we have an increase in demand, we’re doing a lot more in the community, people are living longer, but all of that leads to a shortage of appointments.”

Mr Fitzgerald said contract arrangements with GPs will have to be looked at as part of an employment framework.

“We would really want to see direct employment,” he said. 

“I don’t think it will solve every problem but certainly I think it would be of assistance and I do think as well that the standalone GP will end up becoming a thing of the past.

“GPs will want to work together. They will also want to work with a supporting cast of other professionals such as practitioners, nursing, therapies. You can see that even as it stands already and that’s what we would want.”

He said that throughout the country there is an increase in the number of GPs going through the training scheme, which “is really helpful” and would normally “turn out an additional number of GPs”.

Speaking about the training scheme in Cork, Dr Sheehan said it has “expanded its numbers” with the number of new graduates to increase by about 50% over the next few years.

“We’re increasing the number of GP training places in Cork. There’s 22 this year and a number of years ago we were at 12 and for the most part, they’re staying around and not emigrating,” he said.

“There’s such a shortage and demand for them that they can work anywhere, particularly in rural areas and small single-handed practices.”

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