THE lack of cover for GPs in towns and villages is putting young doctors off taking up positions in rural practises.
Dr Derek Casey, GP at Cappoquin Health Centre, says unless a 'bank of locum doctors' becomes available, the situation will snowball into a real crisis in the coming years.
Speaking to Deise Today this morning, Derek Casey said he took over the GP position at the Cappoquin centre in August 2020 at the height of the pandemic.
However, because he had no holiday cover available, he worked 54 weeks straight before getting a break.
He said he is fortunate since to have acquired a good assistant doctor to help out but the fact GP practises are run as private enterprises (meaning they have to be able to source cover for themselves) is problematic.
"You can't just close the door and be back in two weeks," he said. "I don't want to come across as whinging because I love the job but if this issue was sorted, it would solve a lot."
"Mental health and burnout do lead to mistakes. You just won't perform as well if you don't have breaks."
Dr Casey says the past year has been an extraordinary one in terms of Covid and spoke about the "toughest job of all" front front desk staff who have occasionally to deal with "aggression" and "arguments" from patients.
Unfortunately, he said, it's not always possible to see a doctor the day you ring up. They do try to keep a few slots available per day for emergency appointments.
He said prior to his taking on the Cappoquin practise, there had actually been no GP at the centre for 18 months.
"It was a snapshot of what's happening in rural practises all over the country," he told Damien Tiernan.
Down the road, he said, there was a GP who had worked beyond his retirement because there was nobody in the Cappoquin Health Centre and he had felt a sense of duty to continue on beyond his retirement.
Dr Casey added that the IMO (Irish Medical Organisation) has predicted that in the next 5 years, about 650 GPs around the country will retire and so the crisis is going to worsen.
The uncertainty of being able to get holidays was very much an obstacle to younger GPs taking on rural practises.