Why is there such a demand for Spanish GPs in Ireland?

Last year 215 doctors chose to leave Spain to work in Ireland. Budget cuts, hiring freezes, short term precarious contracts and salary are the principal push factors for Spanish doctors working in Ireland but why are they so desperately needed in the first place?

According to the HSE, Ireland is facing a shortage of up to 1,380 GPs by 2025 unless urgent steps are taken to address the shortfall 1. Similarly, research highlighted by the ICGP in 2017 predicts shortages of over 1,000 doctors in general practice in the next 10 years 2.

Reasons for GP shortage in Ireland

• HSE Recruitment Embargo
In 2009 the HSE introduced a recruitment embargo that meant a lack of employment options for the 700+ doctors graduating each year.

• Overseas Recruitment Campaigns
Countries such as the UK and Australia have been all too happy to recruit Irish doctors left without jobs in Ireland. Between 2009 and 2013 more than 1,000 Irish GPs have relocated to the UK, a staggering figure, given that Ireland only trains 157 GPs a year 3.

• GP Retirement
The lack of influx of early career GPs into the Irish Healthcare System has resulted in around one in five GPs being aged 60 or over, with almost one in three aged over 55 according the IGCP 4.

• Emigration Legacy
Although the HSE recruitment embargo has been lifted Ireland is finding it difficult to reverse the trends of the last few years. According to the IMO 60% of the 2016 newly qualified interns have already stated their intention to leave at the end of their first year 5.

Ireland is already below the OECD average for the number of doctors per head of population (64 GPs per 100,000 population) and given the predicted change in population they will not have enough doctors in the future 6. This year the IGCP reported 66% of recently qualified GP trainees are planning to emigrate and 16% of GP graduates emigrate immediately on completion of training 7.

According the IGCP, “Healthcare reform will depend on solving the problems in both recruitment and retention in Irish general practice”. The NDTP Unit indicates that 100 more GPs need to be trained every year. The ICGP delivered a 43% increase in training places between 2010 and 2016 and now train 172 GPs a year 8.

The role of external recruitment is not quantified in official reports but with the current shortfalls (shortage of up to 1,380 GPs by 2025) bringing in highly qualified GPs from Spain and other countries must play a vital role in reaching target GP numbers in the Irish Healthcare System.