The surging numbers of doctors applying for GP training places is “great news”, Stephen Donnelly has said.
The Irish College of GPs has previously warned of a demographic time bomb in the profession, with one in seven already over 65.
Currently, there are some 4,200 GPs in the country but the ICGP estimates the State ideally needs a further 2,000 - thanks to population growth.
Speaking to Newstalk Breakfast, Minister Donnelly said a “growing appetite” for general practice among young doctors would help rectify the problem.
“We’ve actually gone from about 120 [training places], that’s back in 2009, and next year we’ll be at 350,” he said.
“So, 287 this year, 350 next year.
“Last year, we had less than a 1,000 medical graduates apply for these GP training places - which is still a large number.
“We’ve gone up now from less than a 1,000 to about 1,300; it’s really great to see.”
Minister Donnelly said more remote parts of the country are especially “struggling” to recruit GPs and the ICGP has suggested time in rural Ireland should be a compulsory part of training placements.
“I was in Connemara recently and I was talking to some of the new GPs there in one of our new primary care centres,” he said.
“The point they made to me was, if you get the opportunity in your four year training programme to spend time in the rural practices, people are much more likely to stay and realise what an amazing life you can have in Connemara or some other wonderful place around the country.”
Minister Donnelly also said Ireland has been “badly exposed” during the pandemic due to a lack of ICU beds and this was something the HSE has been working on.
“One of the biggest fears we had at the time was making sure we had enough ventilators, that we had the ICU capacity and while our healthcare professionals responded incredibly… it was very clear we didn’t have enough ICU beds,” he said.
“We’ve increased them, we’ve gone from about 258, we’re at 324 today.
“Next year, we’re opening another 22.”
In Budget 2024, the health service was awarded €22.5 billion to spend but former HSE Director General Tony O'Brien said the figures “simply don't add up” and more is needed.
Minister Donnelly said the allocation for health, excluding disability services, is “biggest budget ever” and follows on from several large increases.
“The budget for next year is less expansionary than in the previous three years,” he said.
“That is simply the truth, over the last three years, we’ve had an unprecedented expansion in capacity, in reform.
“We’ve cut patient costs, we’ve rolled out new services and the waiting lists are now falling.”
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Main image: Health Minister Stephen Donnelly at Government Buildings, 07-03-2023. Image: Leah Farrell / RollingNews.ie