Councillor Cahill was speaking after attending a meeting in Bansha in south Tipperary on Friday night. The village is set to lose its GP coverage early in the new year due to the retirement of the local family doctor.
Councillor Cahill commented: “There is a real sense of growing isolation in communities like Bansha. When essential services are no longer available it causes huge difficulty and if GP services are to be removed from the village many older people face a difficult and anxious winter.
“Unfortunately this is not unique to Bansha or Tipperary. This is a growing problem across many communities. There are a number of steps the HSE needs to take in order to tackle it, some in the more medium and longer-term but one immediate measure that should be taken is to increase the Rural GP Allowance. This is a specific payment made to GPs with medical card patients who practice in a village with a population of less than 500 and who are more than three miles away from a town with a population of 1,500 or more.
“At the moment the Rural GP Allowance is worth €16,000 annually. I want to see this increased to €25,000. This amounts to a 56% increase and would send a serious and credible message to rural communities – that the HSE and the Government are serious about protecting vital services in our communities.
“Fianna Fáil values our family doctors – we believe at the heart of primary care must be the family GP. It is also undeniable that many GP practices are now running at unsustainable levels of net income after meeting unavoidable costs in their practice. By the HSE’s own estimate, Ireland is facing a shortage of between 500 and 1,400 GPs by 2025 unless urgent steps are taken to address the shortfall.
“To address this shortfall, there should be an annual increase in training places of up to 110 new GPs or higher if emigration continues to be a serious factor. This is something that must be addressed in a forthright and serious manner, and we don’t have a lot of time to do it. If we allow our villages and towns to become increasingly devoid of services such as financial and health services what message are we sending to our rural population? What quality of life are we leaving for our older citizens who have lived the whole lives in rural communities?”