Fears over lack of out-of-hours GP service in West Cork 

Fears over lack of out-of-hours GP service in West Cork 

The lack of cover on the Beara Peninsula was described as “very worrying ” given the distance to the next centre.

A CORK GP has raised concerns about the lack of cover available in rural Cork to man the out-of-hours GP service.

Dr Fiona Kelly of the Bank Place Clinic in Castletownbere said that there was no regular SouthDoc cover in her area for a period of two months in September and October of this year.

Speaking to The Echo, she said that the lack of cover on the Beara Peninsula is “very worrying ” given the distance to the next centre and highlighted that she expects further issues with a lack of cover early next year.

“We have absolutely no out-of-hours cover sorted from the end of January 2022 onwards,” she said. 

“This is a very worrying situation as the next nearest SouthDoc centre is in Bantry which is nearly a three-hour round trip from some parts of the Beara Peninsula.

“It is very wrong that sick patients have to travel such considerable distances to access medical care. In addition, the Bantry centre is already extremely busy without the added burden of extra patients.”

Dr Kelly called on the HSE to grant longer working visas to doctors who man SouthDoc shifts.

“Usually, the ‘red-eye’ shift of the out-of-hours service is manned by overseas doctors who originate mostly from South Africa,” she said. 

“Unfortunately, the HSE only grants these doctors a three-month working visa. It would improve the out-of-hours manpower crisis is if the HSE was to grant a longer working visa to these doctors, ideally a two-year visa.

“This would provide stability and a sense of security for these doctors and give them an incentive to work in rural Ireland. It would also benefit patients by providing continuity for them by seeing a familiar face when they need to attend.”

Dr Kelly said that in addition to the difficulties associated with manning the SouthDoc centres, there are also difficulties associated with “the sheer volume of calls that the service has to handle”.

“This pressure on the out-of-hours service is largely attributed to the day-time GP services being overstretched,” she said. 

“A significant number of practices are unable to accept new patients onto their lists which are already beyond capacity.

“This gives these patients no option but to avail of the out-of-hours services. This situation is only going to get worse. The Irish College of General Practitioners has recently estimated that approximately 700 GPs will retire in the next five years.”

Sinn Féin TD Thomas Gould said there are “serious capacity issues with SouthDoc that need to be resolved”, a clear result, he said, of the lack of GPs in the system.

“There needs to be a real plan to bring more GPs into the system and to keep the GPs we have.”

Southdoc did not respond to requests for comment on the issue.

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