Fianna Fáil Senator Robbie Gallagher has hit out at the Health Minister for failing to address the issues of falling GP numbers, particularly in rural areas.  The Monaghan based Senator raised the issue in the Seanad this week after being contacted by a number of people who were unable to access GP services in the county.

“GP services have been declining steadily over the past number of years as a result of a chronic shortage of GPs throughout the country.  It is becoming increasingly difficult to recruit GPs to areas outside the main urban hubs, and as a result, towns and villages across Ireland are being left without an adequate service.  Only last week I was contacted by two families, both trying to get appointments with a GP in Monaghan and Carrickmacross, and neither were able to do so.  This is a completely unacceptable situation” explained Senator Gallagher.

“The local GP is the first port of call for a person who is sick and in need of medical care. If there aren’t enough GPs in our towns and villages, people will be forced to go to the Emergency Department, and the overcrowding crisis there will be further exacerbated.  It’s a vicious circle and the patients are losing out.

“GPs are under immense pressure, working longer hours, seeing more patients and taking on more on-call work.  Unfortunately, they’re not getting fair treatment from the HSE – unlike doctors working in hospitals, they are self-employed, and receive a pension only a fraction of what is available to hospital doctors.

“Many GPs are now running at unsustainable levels income levels, with an estimated one in 12 practices under such financial pressure that they’re at risk of closing.  I want to see GPs put at the centre of our primary care system and resourced appropriately.   GP numbers must be increased and doctors should be incentivised to local to rural areas – last year we committed to recruit an additional 250 GPs by 2010 and increase the rural GP allowance to €25,000.

“Unless urgent action is taken, our health service will fall deeper into this crisis and families will suffer.  I am calling on Minister Harris to come into the Seanad and outline his plan of action for dealing with this issue”.