Transferring resources to primary care is the key to the reform of the whole healthcare system in this country, the AGM of the NAGP heard at the weekend.

Keynote speaker, Dr Edward Walsh said GPs were “the key to it all” and the support and motivation of Ireland’s 2,728 GPs was fundamental.

He pointed out that general practice was “the part of healthcare that worked”, with GPs running cost-effective small businesses that handled 22 million patient visits each year.

Dr Walsh, the founding President of the National University of Limerick and Principal of Oakhampton Consultants, spoke on the topic of Adapting International Practice to Transform Irish Healthcare.

The key to sorting out the Irish healthcare system was not more funding, he said, but smarter spending.

Key issues he identified included the misallocation of resources, too few medics at the front line and too many others in offices.

Dr Walsh said the way to make savings was to introduce state-of-the-art Information Technology and reduce the size of administration. Reducing the number of management, administration and support staff by 25% would result in savings of more than €500 million, he pointed out.

As well as fewer in offices, there should be more on the front line — in primary care and the hospitals, he told the meeting.

He suggested that Ireland should learn from the success of the Stockholm model in Sweden where the management of public hospitals was put out to tender. Since 1994, private hospitals had been encouraged to compete with public facilities and all public hospitals in Stockholm were now under private management.

“The primary acute hospital in Stockholm, St Gorgan’s, has been under private management since 1994 although it remains under public ownership as a public hospital. During this time, waiting lists have gone down and patient satisfaction has gone up,” Dr Walsh explained.