GPs from all over the country gathered in Galway city last weekend – to lament the medical ‘brain drain’ caused by low pay and poor prospects for newly qualified members of their profession.
Over 300 medics attended the Irish College of General Practitioners annual three-day conference in the Radisson Hotel, where they highlighted the wave of young doctors who were emigrating in search of work.
And this – combined with the ageing population – was a particular cause for concern across the profession, according to one Galway GP in attendance.
Dr. Sinead Murphy of the Galway Bay Medical Centre spoke of the problems facing general practitioners in Ireland underlining her understanding of the issues at hand.
“It’s different in cities than it is rurally… We need more doctors to deliver the same amount of care than there would have been before… In Galway city it’s a little bit different from everywhere else, as there are plenty of young GPs available who want to work.
“The problem is that we can’t afford to give them work; not enough, especially, practices that set up in recent years.”
Minister for Primary Care, Social Care and Mental Health, Kathleen Lynch, was also present at the event which gave GP’s a forum to discuss their concerns – not least the contract for the provision of free medical care for under sixes and the ageing GP population affecting rural Ireland.
But speaking to the Connacht Tribune, Dr. Murphy dispelled the myth that this was a manpower issue.
“It’s awful to hear people saying we have a manpower crisis and that we need to train more GPs, when it’s clearly not the issue at all.
“We’ve trained a huge number of excellent GP’s and what they [the Government] need to do is engage with those GP’s and see what kind of a job would they be interested in staying for and why don’t they just offer that?”
Dr. Murphy was also unequivocal on the issues affecting her colleagues working outside of cities in rural areas – describing it as ‘absolutely criminal’ that the rural practice allowance was taken away.
“I know a lot of colleagues of mine are struggling and I think that that is wrong. It’s a very different type of medicine when you’re in the middle of nowhere with none of the back-up that we would have here in the city,” she said.
Minister Lynch had previously stated that the allowance hasn’t been abolished, but reduced.
The Rural Practice Allowance is a scheme whereby GPs are eligible for an allowance if they live and practice in a rural area with a population of less than 500 and where there is not a town with a population of 1,500 people within a three mile radius of the practice in question.
The HSE also needs to feel that it is necessary to pay an allowance to retain a doctor/practice in the specific area.
So far the contract has not lived up to the expectations of GPs according to Dr. Murphy “look at the out of hours commitments and the obligations and responsibilities on the doctors and the lack of responsibilities on the HSE in that contract.
“It’s not in any way attractive to somebody who wants to set up a practice or take over a business on those terms.
“I hear it all the time from doctors who are working in rural areas, that they are completely swamped and cannot get a locum to work there at all.
“I suppose if the contract was better structured it would attract enough locums (another doctor to provide cover) to the areas where you cannot get enough locums and it would provide enough income for the practice to hire enough doctors to run the practice safely,” she said.
She also discussed the viability of some rural practices and the difficulties being faced in rural areas.
“Unlike the hospital setting where you have guaranteed income and security, and don’t need to pay for the overheads of running a practice, in this way practices are different. The idea of getting into a practice where the viability of it has disappeared in a lot of areas a long time ago, there is just nothing to attract people to it [rural practices] and this contract does nothing to reverse it.”
The contract in question is related to the provision of free medical care for children under six.
Last year the HSE issued this contract to all of the existing 2,400 GPs who held General Medical Services (GMS) contracts in Ireland, on top of this, it was also open to any qualified GP who did not hold a GMS contract to apply.
As GPs are effectively independent contractors it has been up to each doctor to individually decide whether they would in or opt out of this new arrangement.
A lot of the concerns raised by the GP’s in attendance were predominantly focused on the above contract.
“I’d be in favour of free GP care for people who need it and ultimately the whole country if we can do that properly, but it has to be done properly in a way that’ll work.
“The concern with the free GP care is that if you don’t do it properly the current very high standard of access is in jeopardy,” she said.
She felt the current draft of the contract, while an improvement from the first effort, was still too “HSE and Government-friendly and not GP or patient-friendly.”
Ultimately, Dr. Murphy feels that free health care for the whole population is something to strive for, as healthcare is a basic human right.
The imminent implementation of the free medical care for under sixes is slated for July and she feels it is very much a rushed timeline.
“While the government said that there will be free GP from July, that is unlikely to be the case, most of us want to do this, but we want to do it with the right back-up so more of us don’t end up going out of business… leaving people with any GP service.”
Murals are part of initiative to restore pride in Ballybane estate
From the Galway City Tribune – A poem about litter forms part of a vibrant colourful new mural painted on the walls of a City Council estate in Ballybane.
The poetry and artwork by local artist Irene Naughton is part of an initiative to restore pride in Sliabh Rua.
The final two lines of Ms Naughton’s poem, called The Dragon’s Foot, read: “The land, the sea and the river all get hurt when we leave a littered footprint on the earth.”
The full poem was painted onto boundary walls as part of a large colourful mural that was created by Ms Naughton.
The street art includes handprints from children living in the estate on the city’s east side.
It also depicts an enchanted forest, a dragon sitting atop Merlin Castle, a view of the Burren, a wolf, butterflies, insects and foliage, as well as a man playing the guitar, a former resident who died.
Ms Naughton, who was commissioned by the City Council’s Environment Department, said it took about five days to complete.
“The residents were very, very helpful and kind,” she said.
Councillor Noel Larkin (Ind) explained that the mural was part of a wider, ‘Ballybane Matters’ project, which stemmed from Galway City Joint Policing Committee (JPC).
“We were doing a lot of talking at the JPC about anti-social behaviour, and it seemed to be more prevalent in the Ballybane area. When we boiled it down, it was in the Sliabh Rua and Fána Glas areas.
“Month after month it was just talking. So Níall McNelis [chair of the JPC] said we should set up a small group to hone in on exactly what was going on,” he said.
A group was formed to focus on improving the Council estate of about 40 houses.
As well as Cllr Larkin, it included: Sergeant Mick Walsh, Galway Garda Crime Prevention Officer and community Gardaí Maria Freeley, Nicola Browne, Kenneth Boyle and Darragh Browne; Fr Martin Glynn; Imelda Gormley of Ballybane Taskforce; Councillor Alan Cheevers; Donal Lynch, chairperson Merlin Neighbourhood Residents’ Association; and two members of Galway Traveller Movement, Katie Donoghue and Kate Ward.
Ms Gormley carried out a survey to get feedback from residents.
“A lot of the problems people had were horses on the green, people being harassed going in and out of estates, trailers full of rubbish left around the place, the City Council not cutting the grass, and anti-social behaviour,” explained Cllr Larkin.
Small improvements, with community buy in, has helped to revitalise the estate.
Cllr Larkin praised Edward Conlon, community warden with the City Council, who has been “absolutely brilliant”.
“He looked funding that was available to get trees or shrubs and to get the grass cut more regularly,” he said.
“Fr Martin got a residents committee set up because he knew people through the church, and that means there is community buy-in, people are actually taking an interest now.
“When we started originally, Sergeant Mick Walsh mentioned ‘the closed curtain syndrome’. You go into your home in the evening close your curtain and don’t want to see what’s going on outside. Whereas now, with community pride restored to the area, if somebody is acting the maggot outside, people are keeping an eye on it and that curbs anti-social behaviour,” said Cllr Larkin.
Covid-19 delayed the project but it “came together very quickly” once work started.
Cllr Larkin said that the project will move to other estates in Ballybane, including Fána Glas and Castlepark, but they also plan to maintain the progress made in on Sliabh Rua.
“We decided to concentrate on Sliabh Rua, because if we could crack Sliabh Rua we could crack the rest of them. Pride has been restored in the community,” added Cllr Larkin.
QR codes hold the key to podcast tour of Galway City
From the Galway City Tribune – From singer-songwriter Ed Sheeran’s teenage days busking on the corner of William Street, to the rich past of the 14th century Lynch’s Castle on Shop Street, a new interactive tour of Galway City covers modern and ancient history.
Regional tour guide Jim Ward has created a series of podcasts detailing the history of eight places of interest in Galway City.
The Salthill native has created two-dimensional QR codes that are located at each of the eight locations, which allow visitors to download the podcasts to their smart phones.
Each podcast gives a flavour of the tours that Jim gives in ‘real-time’ when he leads hordes of tourists around the city’s famous sites.
The podcasts range from five to ten minutes and are located on or near buildings at the following locations: Eyre Square, William Street, Lynch’s Castle, the King’s Head, St Nicholas’ Collegiate Church, the Latin Quarter, Spanish Arch and Galway Cathedral.
During the Covid-19 Lockdowns, Jim gave virtual tours by video through sustainable tourism website, Flockeo.
He has also brought Ukrainian refugees on tours through the city streets to allow them to become familiar with Galway’s rich history.
The podcasts are hosted on his website, galwaytrails.ie and are accessed on mobile devices through via QR codes scanned onto posters.
Jim said he was grateful to the businesses of Galway, who have allowed his to put up posters on their premises near the sites of interest.
“I propose to ask Galway City Council for permission to place some on public benches and poles at a later date.”
He said the idea was to “enhance interactive tourism in Galway and bring connectivity to the city”.
He also has other plans in the pipeline, including rolling-out an interactive oral history of certain areas such as Woodquay.
This would involve interviewing local people of interest in certain historic parts of the city, which could be accessed through podcasts. The stories would be their own, or that of local organisations.
“The recordings would be accessed through QR codes on lamp posts or park benches and would provide a level of interactivity and connectedness with our historic town,” Jim added.
Renters in Galway City have to fork out an extra €11,500 annually
From the Galway City Tribune – Renters in private accommodation in Galway City are paying, on average, around €11,500 more per annum than they were at the bottom of the market ten years ago.
According to figures published by property website Daft.ie this week, the average monthly rent in the city now stands at €1,663 – that’s up a whopping 138% since the market trough in early 2012, when it stood at around €700.
At the end of June this year, the average monthly rent had risen 16.4% – one of the biggest jumps in the country.
Nationally rents in the second quarter of 2022 were an average of 12.6% higher than the same period a year earlier, as availability of rental homes reached an all-time low.
County Galway has seen a similar pattern of increases – average rents stood at €1,184 per month, up 12.4% on the previous year. The averages have also more than doubled – up 132% – since the bottom of the market.
At the moment, there are fewer than 60 properties available for for rent in Galway city and county – the lowest figure recorded since the Daft.ie rental reports began in 2006.
A breakdown of the figures shows that a single bedroom in Galway city centre is renting for an average of €588 per month, up 19.5% on June 2021, while in the suburbs, a similar room is commanding €503 per month, up 15.9% on a year earlier. A double room is generating €633 (up 16.4%) in the city centre and €577 (up 19.2%) in the suburbs.
In the city, an average one-bed apartment is currently ‘asking’ €1,110 per month (up 17.3% year on year); a €1,297 for a two-bed house (up 15.6%); €1,542 for a three-bed house (up 16.9%); €1,923 for a four-bed house (up 21.8%) and €2,016 for a five-bed house, which is up 10.6%.
Ronan Lyons, Associate Professor of Economics at Trinity College Dublin and author of the Daft report, pointed to a resurgent economy which has accentuated the chronic shortage of rental housing in Ireland.
“The shortage of rental accommodation translates directly into higher market rents and this can only be addressed by significantly increased supply.
“While there are almost 115,000 proposed rental homes in the pipeline, these are concentrated in the Dublin area. Further, while nearly 23,000 are under construction, the remainder are earlier in the process and the growth of legal challenges to new developments presents a threat to addressing the rental scarcity,” he said.