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30 November 2015
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The Future of General Practice: ICGP Member Survey 2015

New ICGP research confirms extent of crisis in general practice

  • No sessional GPs available in 55% of cases
  • Substantial difficulty recruiting locums especially in rural areas
  • Patient care and same day service at risk

The ICGP announced on Saturday 28 November 2015 the results of recent member research which reveals the extent of the impact of recent health policy on general practitioners and its potential to impact on patients. The most telling statistic detailed in the report, in terms of the risks to the future of general practice, as well as on patient safety, is that over half (55%) of GPs who tried to recruit a sessional doctor or assistant in the past year were not able to do so. A total of 44% who tried to recruit a locum in the past year were unable to do so on more than half of the occasions that they tried.

The ICGP has been warning of manpower shortages and risks to the viability of the profession for a number of years as large numbers of trainees and graduates have been attracted by better opportunities outside Ireland.

The ICGP carried out the research of its members in October 2015 in order to be able to contribute, in an evidence based manner, to the debate about general practice in Ireland and its future viability. The ICGP, which is responsible for standards and training in general practice in Ireland, represents over 4,000 members[1] (90% of the general practice workforce).

Commenting on the new report, Dr Margaret O'Riordan, ICGP Medical Director, said, "For the first time, the collective views of general practitioners about recent changes affecting their profession and the potential impact of this on patients have been collated. We hope that this research will further the debate about addressing the current and future needs of general practice for general practitioners and patients."

The key findings from this research are:

  • 90% of GPs feel that communication between the Government and GPs has failed both doctors and patients
  • 47% of GPs describe their morale as poor or very poor, and for 77%, their morale has worsened over the past five years. 74% of GPs rated their current stress levels as high or very and high.
  • 55% of GPs who tried to recruit a sessional doctor/assistant in the past year were unable to do so.
  • Only 44% of GPs who tried to recruit a locum in the past year were able to do so on more than half of the occasions that they tried.
  • Rural GPs were less successful in terms of recruiting sessional/assistants or locum cover.
  • The majority of GPs consider that free GP care to the under-sixes and over- 70s will impact on waiting times in general practice.
  • Just over one third consider that free care to the over-70s will result in improved monitoring of health needs.
  • Almost two-thirds of GPs support the principle of primary care teams (PCT) although only 13% feel they are currently working in a well-functioning PCT.
  • Less than one quarter of GPs indicated a preference for co-location with a PCT.
  • Over two-thirds of GPs welcome chronic care management models of care and the majority (87%) agreed that moving care from secondary to primary care will benefit patients. However, this support was contingent on appropriate supports and resources being put in place.
  • GPs highlighted the importance of preserving factors such as the continuity of care, the doctor/patient relationship and person centre care.

Commenting on the findings of the research, Dr O'Riordan, said, "Underinvestment in general practice, a feature of Irish health policy, has been exacerbated in recent years. Overall investment in primary care and general practice has, under FEMPI, been cut by c. 40% since 2008. We have known anecdotally that this has had an impact on morale among our members. This report, for the first time, details the extent of that impact.

"Research shows that factors, such as work overload, lack of control over work demands and insufficient reward for work volume and complexity are risks for professional burnout. The high prevalence of these risk factors among Irish GPs would suggest that this is a high probability for many. Promoting job satisfaction and morale, in addition to addressing issues such as administrative demands, will help to retain the current workforce," she continued.

Despite the limitations outlined, the report indicates that GPs are supportive of new developments in general practice including chronic disease management, prevention related activities and working with primary care teams.

Commenting on this positive attitude among GPs, Dr O'Riordan said, "This support can only be translated into reality if adequate supports and resources are put into general practice. Manpower issues are a particular challenge with recruitment of both locum and new doctors at crisis level. The current GP workforce cannot continue to function unless this situation is addressed as a priority by the Government. Mechanisms suggested elsewhere, such as new organisational arrangements, advancing the planned reversal of financial cuts and implementing workforce improvement strategies are critical to this recovery."

The member research report is the fourth in a series of reports from the ICGP this year. The earlier reports examined and made recommendations to the Government to address the issues affecting rural general practice, GPs working in areas of deprivation (urban and rural) and general practice manpower. The ICGP carried out the latest research via an online survey in October 2015. A total of 815 GPs completed the survey, resulting in a 30.4% response rate which, while somewhat low, is a statistically representative sample of the general practice population based on the profile of respondents.

General practice is a highly functional area of the Irish health service. Over 90-95% of patients are managed in the GP setting and there are over 20 million visits to GPs in Ireland annually. There are an additional one million consultations to the out-of-hours co-ops. There are few delays experienced by patients and most patients are seen on a same day or next day basis.

Click here for 'The Future of General Practice: ICGP Member Survey 2015'

For reference

Marie-Thérèse Culligan
PR Strategy Ltd






[1] Detail on membership. ROI members: 3986, overseas members: 190, total membership: 4,176