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Mr Fintan Foy, CEO of the Irish College of General Practitioners (ICGP) addressed the Medical Protection GP conference 2017, offering his view on the challenges that face general practice from the perspective of a CEO and a non-clinician.

One point that Mr Foy returned to was the negativity among general practitioners towards the state of their practice in Ireland. While the CEO acknowledged that this attitude could in many ways be justified, he also warned that “negativity begets negativity” and would not lead to a solution of the problems within general practice or medicine generally.

He highlighted what he personally seeks from his GP, as a patient, a husband, and a father: “I want a long-lasting and trusting relationship with my GP, I want a GP for life, I want someone who knows me and knows my family, I want someone who knows our mental and physical health needs, and also knows when to refer us on if there is a problem that he can’t deal with”.

He stated that, having had the opportunity to work overseas, he believed that the relationship between patient and GP was a specifically Irish one and that it should be protected at all costs.

“I think we have a particular Irish situation here and, like in a lot of context throughout our history, as we move through challenges and deal with the future, we should be looking for an Irish solution to an Irish problem.

“As an island state we tend to look outward for our solutions, rather than inwards. I think that sometimes we have to look internally at what works best for Ireland, rather than always looking overseas”, he added.

He questioned the efficacy of healthcare policy documents that have been published over the last fifteen years: “There is a problem with these; they look good and read well but what sort of an impact do they make?”

In relation to the Sláintecare report, or; “the all-singing, all-dancing healthcare strategy for the next 10 years”, he noted the significant level of negativity he had encountered towards the document among GPs.

“At the moment it is government policy and we will have to engage with it in one way or the other”, he said, complimenting the report for taking many of the ICGP’s concerns into consideration and expressing his hope that it would not become another document left to sit on the shelf.

Mr Foy continued: “The public want this and, as a result, I think it puts pressure back on GPs and other parts of the health sector, on unions and on colleges, because it is going to be very hard to achieve.

“I think this is a very good vision but the problem is that the various parts that feed into that vision are not there”.

Mr Foy advised GPs to use their knowledge and their voices so that positive improvements to the health system can be made: “We all know what the problems are, and to a large extent we know what the solutions are as well.

“What we need to do is to become more vocal, we need to be loud otherwise we will have another report in 10 years time with the same recommendations and with nothing happening in the meantime”.

He admitted: “At times it’s a challenge to maintain a positive attitude. From the GP’s perspective it’s an even greater challenge because they’re at the coalface”.

Mr Foy expressed his concern regarding the negativity that is rife among GPs; 90 per cent who responded to the ICGP 2015 survey of members felt that poor communication between the government and GPs had failed doctors and patients.

“There’s a high degree of stress and low morale in general practice and, to be honest, I think that that is the case within the whole healthcare sector”.

He listed some ways to resolve this, such as building capacity, a well-resourced primary care system, community care, and improving IT in the acute sector.

Regarding IT, he remarked: “It makes no sense why we as a well-developed nation haven’t been able to link our primary and our secondary care systems”.

He claimed that a multiplicity of visions could sometimes create confusion within general practice, calling for improved clarity of strategy if strides are to be made in the right direction.

“We have to be unified as a group in what we want general practice to be, now and in the future. Collaboration is key; it’s easier to work with each other than against”, Mr Foy concluded.