Shannondoc, the Mid-West’s out-of-hours GP facility, is to introduce a video based remote doctor service at its Kilrush centre, allowing it to remain open nightly for two hours.
It comes one month after a major reduction to the facility was announced in West Clare. The service will be supported also by an on-duty doctor in Miltown Malbay from 18:00 to 08:00 the following morning, who can also travel to Kilrush if required. The system, which is operated by medical services company Mediserve and has been successfully trialled elsewhere in Ireland, will be operated from Monday to Friday between 20:00 and 22:00.
It provides for a remote Shannondoc doctor to connect with the Kilrush clinic via a secure, encrypted, high definition video link to treat patients. Patients will contact Shannondoc as they normally would; triage Nurse will first determine if the patients require a GP appointment and then if the patient is suitable for a video consultation.
A nurse based at the Kilrush centre initiates the consultation by taking the patients key details and vitals, before the remote GP commences what will otherwise be a typical consultation. Deploying a high-definition digital camera, digital otoscope and electronic stethoscope, the GP sees and hears all images and sounds in real time, enabling a clinical diagnosis and treatment.
Introduced in response to a shortage of doctors in the area, the system will hope to minimise the impact. Patients outside the designated hours will have the option of travelling to Miltown Malbay during weekdays where there is an on duty doctor from 18:00 to 08:00 the following morning who can also travel to Kilrush if required to see patients in that centre. The treatment centre in Kilrush and Ennistymon will be fully operational at weekends and bank holidays.
Commenting on the new technology, Shannondoc CEO Mike Finucane said: “We are introducing this two hour service on the back of very positive results gleaned during trials at Nedoc in the North East. It’s a 2016 technology solution to a 2016 rural Ireland challenge.
“We have seen a significant decline in GP numbers in the West Clare area, to the extent that our doctors in this area are working an additional seven weeks per year to keep the Shannodoc service here going. This is also only possible through engaging three locums in the Kilrush cell, but locums are now in shorter supply for the area. In the event of not having locums, which is a real possibility, GPs would be faced with having to work four extra months each year to keep the existing service running, which is not sustainable.
“Essentially, the difficulties we face are two-fold; we have a lack of GPs and rural depopulation over decades means there are also a lot less patients to see. On Monday night of this week, for example, we had one patient in Kilrush and one in Ennistymon across five hours in each centre. That’s two patients in ten working hours. The most we had any one night last week was five in Kilrush and three in Ennistymon. Normally a GP can safely see 20 patients or more in a five hour period.
“Our particular problem in Kilrush going forward is that we have three GPs retiring in the next 18 months to two years. It will be very difficult to attract new GPs to the area if they have to commit to these extra hours, not least when their peers in Ennis or Limerick have a lot less out-of-hours service. This technology solution may enable us to overcome that.”
A public meeting takes place on Friday evening at 7:30pm in Kilrush Community Centre to discuss the recent changes to the Shannondoc services in West Clare.
Since featuring on The Clare Herald on Wednesday, an online petition calling for the reinstatement of the service to Kilrush, Ennistymon and Killaloe has seen signatures rising by over two hundred.