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Open Access Research article

General practitioner workforce planning: assessment of four policy directions

Conor Teljeur1*, Stephen Thomas2, Fergus D O'Kelly1 and Tom O'Dowd1

Author Affiliations

1 Department of Public Health and Primary Care, Trinity College Centre for Health Sciences, AMiNCH, Tallaght, Dublin 24, Ireland

2 Health Policy & Management, Room 0.21, 3-4 Foster Place, College Green, Dublin 2, Ireland

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BMC Health Services Research 2010, 10:148  doi:10.1186/1472-6963-10-148

Published: 2 June 2010

Abstract

Background

Estimating the supply of GPs into the future is important in forecasting shortages. The lengthy training process for medicine means that adjusting supply to meet demand in a timely fashion is problematic. This study uses Ireland as a case study to determine the future demand and supply of GPs and to assess the potential impact of several possible interventions to address future shortages.

Methods

Demand was estimated by applying GP visit rates by age and sex to national population projections. Supply was modelled using a range of parameters derived from two national surveys of GPs. A stochastic modelling approach was adopted to determine the probable future supply of GPs. Four policy interventions were tested: increasing vocational training places; recruiting GPs from abroad; incentivising later retirement; increasing nurse substitution to enable practice nurses to deliver more services.

Results

Relative to most other European countries, Ireland has few GPs per capita. Ireland has an ageing population and demand is estimated to increase by 19% by 2021. Without intervention, the supply of GPs will be 5.7% less than required in 2021. Increasing training places will enable supply to meet demand but only after 2019. Recruiting GPs from overseas will enable supply to meet demand continuously if the number recruited is approximately 0.8 per cent of the current workforce per annum. Later retirement has only a short-term impact. Nurse substitution can enable supply to meet demand but only if large numbers of practice nurses are recruited and allowed to deliver a wide range of GP services.

Conclusions

A significant shortfall in GP supply is predicted for Ireland unless recruitment is increased. The shortfall will have numerous knock-on effects including price increases, longer waiting lists and an increased burden on hospitals. Increasing training places will not provide an adequate response to future shortages. Foreign recruitment has ethical considerations but may provide a rapid and effective response. Increased nurse substitution appears to offer the best long-term prospects of addressing GP shortages and presents the opportunity to reshape general practice to meet the demands of the future.