763. Deputy Brendan Ryan asked the Minister for Health his views on the lack of general practitioners here with particular reference to the lack of same in the Fingal area of County Dublin; and the strategies in place to ensure an adequate number of general practitioners is available in Fingal and throughout the State. (Question 15468/18 asked on 17 Apr 2018)

Minister for Health (Deputy Simon Harris): I propose to take Questions Nos. 763 and 764 together.

The Government is committed to delivering more non-acute care within the primary care sector, so that better care closer to home can be provided for communities around the country.

GPs play an important role in the primary care system.  The number of GPs on the specialist register continues to increase – up from 2,270 in 2010 to 3,637 in 2017 and there are now 2,485 GPs contracted to the HSE under the GMS scheme compared to 2,098 in 2008. It should be noted that as of 1 March there were only 23 GMS panels that do not have a permanent GP in place – a vacancy rate of less than 1%.

The Government is committed to increasing GP capacity to ensure that patients across the country continue to have access to GP services and that general practice is sustainable in all areas into the future. Efforts undertaken in recent years to increase the number of practising GPs include changes to the entry provisions to the GMS scheme to accommodate more flexible/shared GMS/GP contracts, and to the retirement provisions for GPs under the GMS scheme, allowing GPs to hold GMS contracts until their 72nd birthday, as well as the introduction of an enhanced supports package for rural GP practices.

In addition, the Government has also taken steps to expand GP training. In 2009, there were 120 GP training places. This year there are over 190 GP training places available for the 2018 GP training intake. The Government is committed to further increasing this number to 259 places annually in future years.

It is generally accepted that there is a need to modernise the current GMS contract and ensure that general practice benefits patients while providing for a viable and rewarding career for current and future GPs. The aim is to develop a contract which has a population health focus, providing in particular for health promotion and disease prevention and for the structured ongoing care of chronic conditions.

Engagement with GP representatives on contractual issues will commence in the coming weeks. It is important that any new contract will result in service improvements across general practice benefitting both patients and GPs.

In relation to the Deputy’s specific questions about general practice services in the Fingal area, as these relate to service matters, I have arranged for the questions to be referred to the Health Service Executive for direct reply to the Deputy.