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21 July 2023

The forgotten primary eye care workforce

The Department of Health has made several announcements recently about the healthcare workforce, with a whole sector noticeably missing - primary eye care.

At the beginning of June, the Minister announced major increases to GP training places - increasing by 45% from 932 to 1,300 by 2026. He also announced a rise in the non-EU GP training scheme. The increases aim to expand capacity in general practice from both foreign and domestic graduates.

Fintan Foy, Chief Executive Officer of the Irish College of General Practitioners, said: "We welcome the Minister's plans to increase the number of training places for general practice. The workforce and workload crisis in General Practice is affecting patients who have to wait longer to see their GP, as well as thousands of patients who are unable to register with a GP practice. We need more GPs and this increase in training places is a significant measure to enable more doctors to become GPs here in Ireland."

That announcement was followed by another - changes to the regulation of health and social care professionals making it easier to recruit doctors and social care workers from overseas.

The Department of Health then made another announcement about a plan to increase healthcare places at colleges and universities to expand the number of Irish trained healthcare professionals. This announcement relates to boosting the number of doctors, nurses, pharmacists, dentists and veterinarians to "help the health and agriculture sector begin to address workforce shortage issues".

Minister Donnelly said: "I have set the ambitious target of doubling the number of student places across the full range of essential health professions to meet our health workforce and patient care needs." He added: "This planned student expansion is an important step in addressing the needs of our health service and achieving health workforce sustainability for Ireland."

Daniel Hodgson, FODO's head of policy and public affairs, said: "Expanding the healthcare workforce, through increasing undergraduate and postgraduate training places and making it easier for graduates from overseas to join the workforce, is very welcome and should increase and improve services to the Irish population. But the primary eye care workforce is the noticeable omission. Optometrists, dispensing opticians, optical assistants and others working in optical practices deliver HSE and other services to patients, so it is disappointing that these important changes leave them out."

In related news, the Department of Enterprise, Trade and Employment (DETE) has announced a consultation to review the occupations list for employment permits. Daniel said: "We hope DETE will listen to FODO and our members and support the expansion of the primary eye care workforce where the Department of Health has not."



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