GPs take to street to protest about health fund cuts
More than 240 family doctors from across the country have taken their fight against health cuts to the Dail.
In their first ever public protest, they said patient safety and wellbeing were being put at risk and specific patient groups were being punished by the cuts in GP care.
The protest in Dublin was organised by the National Association of General Practitioners, who accused successive governments of ignoring general practice and forcing young family doctors to emigrate.
"General practice has been and is being damaged every day," said NAGP president Dr Conor McGee.
"Newly-qualified GPs are leaving the country after being lured to Canada, Australia, New Zealand and the UK instead of joining or setting up practices in Ireland."
Dr McGee pointed to experienced family doctors being actively recruited by GP training schemes in the Middle East and Far East.
He told the assembled doctors that 30pc of GPs would retire in the next five years, but a significant number in their 50s and 60s, many of whom would have normally retired by now, were unable to do so because of the level of debt attached to their practices.
"This has and will continue to contribute to a slowing of the jobs market for young and emerging GPs," he said.
Greystones GP Dr Ciara Kelly said the doctors had taken the unprecedented step of a public protest "because we firmly believe that the destruction of general practice is already impacting on vulnerable patients".
This, she added, was "undermining overall patient safety and will ultimately destroy the fabric of what works best in healthcare".
Health Minister Leo Varadkar has said the Health Service Executive (HSE) has never had more GPs contracted to it to provide services, and fees paid to family doctors had increased since the change of government.
He added that while GPs were under pressure, everyone in the health service was doing more work for a lower salary.
But he added that there was now an opportunity to get more resources for general practice through the Government's plans to extend free GP care to children under six and people aged 70 and over.
Meanwhile, a Cork GP has announced he is to quit his practice and move to the Middle East because it is increasingly difficult to make a living in Ireland.
Dr Paul O'Keeffe (38), a father of three based in Cork city, is relocating to Qatar eight years after he fulfilled his dream of opening his own practice.
He warned that the difficult financial situation here is prompting dozens of doctors to pursue careers overseas.
"Being realistic, I would have done anything to stay in Ireland," he said.
"We tried everything, but continuous cutbacks, all government-related if I am to be truthful about it, just made it impossible to keep going."