Hundreds of people in Connemara may be left without GP cover from August 4 due to what one Galway politician called, “inaction from the HSE to put interim measures in place” when an An Cheathrú Rua based GP retires.
According to Sinn Féin Senator Trevor Ó Clochartaigh, no arrangements have been put in place to provide GP cover after Dr Mary Feerick, who has been the GP for the An Cheathrú Rua region retires. He also said the staff who have worked in her clinic have “no idea where they stand either”. He said while discussions are ongoing with a doctor who may be willing to take up the post in the medium term, no contract has been agreed and it is unclear when a new GP will be in situ.
Fine Gael Galway West TD and Minister of State for Community Affairs, Natural Resources and Digital Development Seán Kyne, said the HSE is “working to secure a temporary GP for the area” while efforts continue on recruitment a permanent GP. However he acknowledged that interviews were held, and a candidate was selected, but “unfortunately they had decided not to take up the position”.
Sen Ó Clochartaigh said it was difficult to envisage other doctors being able to cover the arising duties due to the heavy burden of their own workloads.
“Other doctors in the area are full to capacity and have been telling the HSE that there is no way they can pick up the slack,” he said. “Other GPs in the area, who at present work in a four in one out of hours rota with Dr Feerick, will be put under extra pressure to work in a three in one rota from August 4 as well.”
Sen Ó Clochartaigh, who is based in An Cheathrú Rua, said Dr Feerick had “made every effort to accommodate the HSE” in regard to this situation. He also a that this impending situation was brought to the attention ofa the HSE more than two months ago. He has called the situation “totally unacceptable” and he has demanded “an urgent response to this situation” from the HSE.
Minister Kyne defended the HSE saying, he has been in contact with the HSE officials locally, “and I know, despite claims by some to the contrary, they are working hard to recruit a new, permanent GP for the area.”
This specific case relating to Connemara is reflective of a wider issue across County Galway with almost one third of Galway GPs set to retire in the next seven years, according to recently published figures. According Fianna Fáil Galway East TD Anne Rabbitte, this means a rural GP crisis is on the horizon unless the Government takes “definitive action”.
Dep Rabbitte said the situation was “extremely worrying for families”. She said she was aware of instances where people are “having to wait days for an appointment” because their local GP in inundated. She also expressed concern that many of the GPs due to retire over the next seven years will not be replaced, especially those working in rural areas.
“Many practices outside the city are already having problems recruiting new GPs, she said. “Doctors are already under serious pressure - working longer hours, seeing more patients, and taking on more on-call work. This Government has not done enough to recognise the vital work that GPs undertake every day.”
Dep Rabbitte said Fianna Fáil has proposed increasing GP numbers by 250 by 2021 and to introducing a community services guarantee to ensure communities have access to GP care.
“We need to make it more attractive for GPs to remain in or to move to rural areas,” she said.
“An increase in the Rural GP allowance would make it more commercially viable for them to establish practices in rural communities.”