Clare Fine Gael TD Joe Carey is enlisting the support of three of the Government’s most senior Ministers in a bid to resolve some of the issues that have led to the reduction of Shannondoc services in East and West Clare.
Following recent public meetings in Kilrush and Killaloe, he has contacted Finance Minister Michael Noonan to remove the 23 per cent VAT rate on locum services in the finance bill to provide back-ups to the GP’s assisting with the service.
He has also asked Justice Minister Frances Fitzgerald to allow locums from other jurisdictions to work in Ireland for extended periods of time and has requested Health Minister Simon Harris to impress on his cabinet colleagues the necessity of improving conditions for locums working in the Shannondoc service.
Deputy Carey told The Clare Herald “While I am of the view that the provision of out-of-hours GP Services is, to a large extent, in the hands of the GPs themselves, I am anxious to ensure that they are given every assistance in meeting their obligations to their patients.
“At the recent public meetings in Kilrush and Killaloe, the clear message from Shannondoc was that locum cover was no longer freely available and this was a major factor in having to reconfigure the service in County Clare. The decision to introduce a 23 per cent VAT rate on locum services had made Ireland a most unattractive destination for locums particularly when the UK authorities don’t apply any VAT charge,” he explained.
“Given that locums play such a significant role in providing out-of-hours GP services, I am asking that the VAT rate be revisited in the Finance Bill or that some other avenue be explored to remove the charge because of the unintended consequence it is having on out-of-hour doctor services, particularly in Rural Areas.
“The chief executive of Shannondoc was also critical of the new Visa regime introduced by the Department of Justice whereby locums are only able to access the State for three consecutive months and when this time has elapsed, they must leave the country for a month before they are to returning again.
“I have written to the Tanaiste and Minister for Justice Frances Fitzgerald to allow locums to work in Ireland for extended periods of time and make it a more attractive destinations for foreign doctors,” Deputy Carey said.
He more incentives are in place for rural doctors to continue in their practices. “There has been a significant improvement in the situation regarding rural doctors in existing practices with a €10 million package that came into effect last May doubling the number of GPs qualifying for the rural practice allowance to more than 300.
“The allowance itself was increased to €20,000 from €16,216 and the scheme was extended from single-doctor practices to partnership and group practices. Restrictions requiring doctors to live in the area of their practice was also removed and GPs can now live within a reasonable distance of their place of work. There has also been a significant improvement in the number of rural practices where there were difficulties filling vacancies.
“The HSE had 2,000 contracts with GPs in 2009. Yet, despite the massive financial challenges faced by the Government, the number of contracts had increased to 2,400 by 2015. Last January, there were 15 out of a national total of 2,400 general medical services GP practices without a permanent doctor. Only five of those 15 vacancies were in rural areas” Carey concluded.