THE HSE hopes to resolve visa issues for foreign doctors working in Southdoc following recent disruption to the service.
The HSE is in discussions with the Irish Naturalisation and Immigration Service (INIS) about the doctors in question, many of whom come from South Africa, who have been experiencing significant difficulties due to terms in the Atypical Working Scheme (AWS).
This has resulted in staff shortages in Southdoc, particularly in rural parts of Cork.
Previously, Bantry-based GP Dr Paul O’Sullivan told The Echo that the service can no longer operate in its current state.
“I personally don’t see Southdoc in rural Cork existing in its current structure in the next three to five years,” he said.
It’s become difficult to recruit and retain suitable locum GPS from abroad, due to the current terms of the AWS.
Many of the GPs covering what is known as ‘red eye’ or night-time services with Southdoc were South African. However recent changes mean they can only longer work for 90 days before there’s a 30-day cooling-off period.
As a result, many are now choosing to go elsewhere, leaving the supply of GPs much shorter than the demand.
Councillors at the Regional Health Forum heard that the HSE has recently become aware of challenges faced by recruitment agencies who provide temporary medical staffing to GP services, particularly out of hours services.
The HSE are in discussions with INIS who are keen to work with all involved in Primary Care to ensure both Out of Hours and day-time GP Practices have access to appropriate staffing.
The discussions are said to be at an advanced stage and nearing completion.
“The pressures that are being put on out of hours services are colossal. A huge amount of South African doctors fill a void that’s been left within the remit of Southdoc.
"Obviously, if we’ve major issues in Southdoc, we’ve major issues in our A&E departments, which then impacts on acute hospital beds,” Kerry-based Cllr Mikey Sheehy said.
“I’m delighted to see we’re at advanced stages of this being resolved,” he added.
The final decision on the issue will ultimately lie with INIS and the Department of Justice and Equality.