Irish GPs are being targeted by other countries – who despite having bigger GP to patient ratios than Ireland – need even more highly-trained GPs to expand their primary care services.
General Practitioners in Ireland are also being targeted by countries such as Canada, the United Kingdom and Qatar to emigrate to those countries because of the international impression that general practice is in crisis in this country.
A recent advertisement in the doctors’ paper, Irish Medical Times, offered salaries of up to €15,000 per month tax free for GPs to work in Qatar asking GP’s “Are you tired of the reforms on health insurance and GP care in Ireland”.
It also promised 60 days annual leave, family accommodation and free medical cover for a 4 days on/4 days off schedule.
But Qatar is not the only country directly targeting Ireland’s well-trained GPs. The province of Alberta in Canada is holding two seminars in Dublin and Cork in November to ‘discuss the benefits of working…where GPs are amongst the highest paid in the world (earning up to €580,000).’
They urge Irish GPs to visit their website to see how they can ‘find the right role in the right location‘.
The Canadian province of British Columbia is offering similar terms and is recruiting in Dublin on October 15.
But the UK will provide possibly the strongest temptation to Irish GPs after the health secretary, Jeremy Hunt pledged to spend £400 million to extend GP services in the UK and attract 5,000 new GPs into the NHS.
The UK is trying to extend GP services to cover an all-day service from 8am to 8pm and on weekends, despite the fact that the Royal College of General Practitioners is opposed to this. In the UK, there are 192 GPs currently per 100,000 of population. In European states such as Germany, the figure is higher at 216 GPs per 100,000, while Ireland has the second lowest number of GPs in the EU with 141 per 100,000.
The chief executive of the National Association of General Practitioners, Mr Chris Goodey, said that he was not surprised that other countries were trying to recruit Irish GPs as they were some of the most highly-trained GPs in the world.
“The word is out internationally that there is a crisis in Irish general practice, that practices are becoming insolvent, and that incomes have been slashed. It’s an international market for GPs and we are losing ours because we are not providing a feasible way for them to make a living in this country,” he said.
“It’s difficult for GPs who are established with young families to up sticks and go to another country, but they are being forced to because they are operating at a loss in many cases. The FEMPI cuts have devastated general practice and in time, may leave many rural and deprived areas without any doctor at all.”
“It’s not a question of giving in to one sector. This is an international market, and if we are paying substantially less than elsewhere, we might be able to hold on to most doctors. But when they are operating at a loss, they will have to find greener pastures elsewhere to survive. They will be fine, but the Irish people who will be without a local doctor will be the ones who will pay the price for this.”
Highly-educated and highly trained middle-aged GPs leaving the country is a new phenomenon and unlike their younger colleagues, they are unlikely to ever return. The ease of direct flights to North America and the Middle East means they can easily compare Ireland to locations where GPs earn much better salaries and have better conditions.
A recent report by the General Medical Council in the UK showed that there were 1,049 Irish-trained GPs working in the NHS – which represents almost eight years of GP training in Ireland. There would be many more Irish medical graduates who would have trained as GPs in the UK system, but this number relates to the number of medical graduates who trained to be GPs in Ireland, but then moved to the UK.
Ireland trains approximately 150 new GPs each year, but given that age demographic for current GPs is high, there would still be shortages in the years to come even if Ireland retained all its current and future GP’s. The average GP age in Ireland is 52 years and there are 240 GPs (one in eight) 64 or older. These statistics would present a major challenge to the health service, but the outflow will exacerbate the problem.
Mr Goodey said that it was ‘imperative’ that the government made general practice viable quickly or the tide of GPs leaving the country ‘could turn into a flood’.
To read about an Irish doctor already in Qatar click here.
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