Doctors Warn that East Cork GP Service is Reaching Crisis Point

By Seamus Whelehan


A chronic lack of doctors in East Cork is leading to a crisis in the GP service, medics have warned.
Overstretched surgeries, a rising population and increased demand on the South Doc Out of Hours Service is leading to fears that massive strain is putting family doctors and patient safety at risk.
In a letter to the HSE Chief Officer for Cork and Kerry, East Cork GPs say ‘Recruitment and retention of doctors in the East Cork area is a very real concern.’
The body of GPs say ‘the [South Doc] out of hours rota for GPs working in East Cork is excessively onerous and becoming increasingly unworkable’ which is adding to the difficulty in attracting new GPs.
The letter comes as the HSE has confirmed, following two national and international recruitment drives, that they have failed to find a replacement for a family doctor who retired in Youghal last week, resulting in her patients being taken on by the remaining 6 family doctors in the area.
A petition to the HSE signed by almost 40 General Practitioners in East Cork states that ‘the out of hours rota is seen as the single most deterrent to incoming GPs’.
One GP had lost an assistant due to out of hours stress, and a number of others had lost potential recruits to practices in other areas as a direct result of the required South Doc commitment in East Cork.
The HSE say that they are working to resolve some of the East Cork doctors' issues within its limited budget.
They say the doctors concerns were raised at a South Doc ‘service level agreement review on the 9 May and a further meeting is being scheduled to explore what actions can be taken.’
Independent Cllr Diarmaid O’Cadhla, who is backing the doctors’ call, said other public representatives need to get behind the GPs to ensure that a better quality service is delivered for East Cork.
He said health care professionals and patients are paying the price of a failed health system.
Based on conservative estimates the HSE National Doctors Training and Planning Office say by 2025 Ireland will need an additional 1,380 GPs to meet current demand, while an additional 2,055 GPs will be needed to expand free GP care to the entire population aged under 12 years.
While the number of GPs in Ireland is growing, they are not sufficient to meet the needs of our ageing population.
The amount of young medics choosing General Practice falls short of those retiring, as patient numbers increase.
It’s predicted that almost 250 family doctors will retire in the next 2 years, with a further 450 by 2022, sparking fears of a recruitment crisis within the medical profession in the next 10 years.
Under the HSE’s 10 year Sláinte care plan, the free GP service is to be extended to half a million patients per year, meaning the demand for GP practices may outstrip supply.
According to a survey carried out by the Irish Medical Council, one in five trainees intend to practice medicine elsewhere, once qualified.
The doctor’s health, quality of life and prevalence of bullying in the learning environment are all significant factors influencing their decision.
The IMO says concern among General Practitioners is also rising as more and more Gps are suffering burnout in the struggle to keep up with the growing numbers of patients, many of whom are more medically complicated older people.
According to the 2016 census, 108,949 people over the age of 50 call Cork their home, which is 27.25% of the county’s population as opposed to 23.97% nationally.
It is estimated the county’s population of retirees will grow by 29% by 2033 which means that Cork County will be home to 115,795 senior citizens, by conservative figures.
The most recent National System of Health Accounts released, those for 2015, demonstrate that just 3.5% of public current expenditure on health is spent in general practice.
In contrast, the United Kingdom’s National Health Services spends 8.1% of its budget on general practice, and has committed to increasing this proportion to 11% of its budget. In Australia this figure sits at approximately 6.4% of public current expenditure.
The IMO state that as a result “Ireland is losing its newly qualified GPs to countries where the value of GP care is recognised, and where Governments apportion a greater percentage of public spending to GP care”.