We must stand up for GP services in Cork

A shortage of Primary Health Care Centres across Cork is unfair on the communities and unfair on the staff in them, says Thomas Gould, Sinn Féin TD for Cork North Central
We must stand up for GP services in Cork

We are now faced with declining GP services across Cork and it is increasingly worrying, said Cllr Thomas Gould, SF

IN 2021, I was proud to fight for the reopening of Southdoc Blackpool.

Southdoc were planning to keep the facility closed and leave the Northside with no out-of-hours doctors service.

This flies in the face of Sláintecare and it is not good enough for ordinary people who need to be able to access a GP in their local community when they need it.

We secured a victory and Southdoc reopened.

However, we are now faced with declining GP services across Cork and it is increasingly worrying.

When constituents in Blarney contacted me about their GP retiring from her practice, I got in touch with the HSE. We organised a public meeting and a vigil. We launched a postcard campaign.

While other public representatives claimed that there was no issue and we should let this go, we fought against it.

At that stage, despite being aware of the potential closure for a number of weeks, the HSE hadn’t even advertised the position. We got the post advertised but the process was to take months.

Unfortunately, the process has now concluded and Blarney will lose a GP surgery.

We have heard nothing but good things about the GP taking over the practice, but the reality is he is based in Blackpool and that means Blarney are losing the service.

Parents with sick young children, vulnerable elderly people and those in need of GP care will be forced onto a bus to access primary healthcare.

The HSE needs to change its procedures to advertise positions as soon as they’re notified and also to try to ensure where possible that a handover can take place between the retiring GP and the new doctor.

GP services should be kept locally where possible.

A study in the Irish Medical Journal in October last year found that, by 2025, this state could see a reduction of almost one third of GPs, but there is no target to entice healthcare workers into GP services.

To compound the effect of this closure, Blarney is still without a Primary Care Centre. Ballyvolane, Glanmire, Bishopstown, Mayfield, the Glen are all in the same boat. These are growing communities with diverse populations.

Sláintecare specifically states that the best healthcare, and value for money, can be delivered when people’s health needs can be addressed locally.

There are six Primary Care Centres in the Cork city area. Only one of these is in Cork North Central. This is despite a population of 131,341.

How can more than 130,000 be serviced by one Primary Care Centre? This is unfair on people, it is unfair on the staff, and it is unfair on our community.

In their election manifesto, Fine Gael promised 80 new Primary Care Centres. The Fine Gael health spokesperson is based in this constituency, but we have not seen even one new centre opened, or even announced.

This is despite population growth of 5.3% in the 2022 Census and a distinct lack of public transport links.

The lack of access to GP services is having a huge impact on people. Sinn Féin local area representative for Cork City North-East, Mandy O’Leary-Hegarty, has raised with me cases of people from Glanmire travelling right across the city and county to access GP services.

That is the reality.

Others are contacting me with stories of waiting days, if not weeks, to see a GP. Minor issues become major and far too often, people cannot wait for these services and are instead forced to attend emergency units in hospitals.

We know that these units are at crisis point. People have no choice. They cannot leave sick children to wait for a GP appointment, but this is adding to the pressure in our hospitals.

The reality is that this government have brought nothing but bad news for people who are in need of healthcare.

They gave a commitment to strengthen GP services. Instead, in Cork, they have weakened these to a desperate point.

The health service needs change. Sinn Féin would expand GP training places and invest significantly in primary care. We would put the money that is needed into building localised, community-based access to healthcare.

We would transform the health service with a vision for forward-planning and strategic investment. We would make healthcare accessible for all.

The community in Blarney have decided to launch a petition calling for proper healthcare in the village. Details to be announced, but contact my office for a copy.

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