The Chairman of Shannondoc, Dr Pat Morrissey, has called for politicians across the Mid-West regions to join ranks in a push for locum permit rule changes to help stave off cuts to services at the out-of-hours GP service.
Shannondoc is currently experiencing an unprecedented shortage of locum GPs due to the full impact nationwide of the Atypical Working Scheme permit rules enforced by the Irish Naturalisation and Immigration Service (INIS).
Locums are vital for keeping out-of-hours services running, particularly in more rural areas where the fall-off in GPs due to declining population has impacted heavily on Shannondoc’s ability to maintain operations over recent years.
Said Dr Morrissey: “Due to the lack of GPs from within Ireland and certainly in rural areas, our and every other out-of-hours/co-op service depends largely on GP locums, particularly for keeping overnight services running. However, new permit rules introduced have effectively cut-off that supply chain and we are faced now with having to introduce restricted services in certain areas.
“This is not an issue exclusive to Shannondoc but, rather, is replicated across the country. This is especially the case in areas that have experienced large-scale depopulation, which are typically outside the main urban centres of the country.
“An example of how much things have changed due to the permit rules is that last year we would have been able to secure up to 20 GPs on any given week from one particular locum agency. Unfortunately, this month the same agency has no locum for us. That’s how challenged the situation has become and the only way we can deal with this is to close certain clinics overnight. We have no choice if we don’t have the GPs.”
Dr. Morrissey said that the only way forward is for the permit rules to be reversed and he called on local politicians to help. “We are now calling on all political representatives, who have been supportive in the past, in the Mid-West to immediately get behind this issue again and put the necessary pressure on to reverse the permit rule changes. Unless this is done, we will be left with no option but to introduce restrictions.
“Regrettably also, those restrictions will hit rural areas, which have already had far too many cuts across different services over the past decade or so. Fundamentally, the solution here lies in the desire of the powers that be to tackle decline in rural services. A simple reversal to the locum permit rules will ensure GP out-of-hours operations, at least, are not among those services.”
Calls have already been made from the Reinstate Shannondoc Group call for the declaration of a Health Emergency in Clare and clarity from Shannondoc.
Spokesperson Deirdre Culligan said: “Given the fact that in the space of five weeks people have been asked twice to refrain from attending the accident and emergency department in University Hospital Limerick – we are now calling on the Government and Clare’s elected representatives (yet again) to declare what is happening here is an emergency and that they need to declare an emergency in Health Care Delivery in the Mid – West when they declared a climate change emergency there was action on the issue.”
Last weekend, a concerned resident of West Clare messaged the group to say that there was no Shannondoc in West Clare tonight on Saturday 17th August.
Ms Culligan said: “On further investigation, basically checking Shannondoc’s web site, we saw that the times hadn’t been changed and no announcement on the website either informing people of this change. What about ‘duty of care to their patients ?’
“We decided as a group to post this information on our Facebook page – in the hope that at least it may help someone – over 60 people shared the post. That’s all it took to keep people informed – less than five minutes!!
Provisions need to be put in place to ensure Health Care is available where and when it is needed for the people of Clare. This is an emergency situation and it needs to be recognised as one with immediate effect,” she added.
Fianna Fáil General Election candidate for Clare Rita McInerney has also called for urgent action to ensure that the ShannonDoc service can operate at full capacity.
“People across Clare rely on this out of hours service, and ShannonDoc can be the first emergency contact for people needing medical attention. People living in rural parts of the country are particularly dependent on the service, and the threatened cuts are creating real fear in these communities,” she said.
“Health services in Clare are already under huge pressure, making the ShannonDoc model even more important. One of main issues with the system is a shortage of available doctors – which has been attributed to issues with work permits for non-EU doctors. Traditionally, the unsociable shifts were taken on by doctors from places like Australia and South Africa, who were in Ireland gaining experience. However, the current work permit scheme for doctors from outside the EU, is leading to major delays.
All measures must be explored to ensure that the ShannonDoc service is maintained. Cuts simply cannot be countenanced, and I am asking the HSE, the Minister and the relevant authorities to examine what measures can be taken to ensure that doctors can be recruited in a timely manner”, Ms. McInerney added.