AS if there weren’t enough crises in the creaking health service, this week we are reporting on yet another bombshell for patients – the very strong possibility of there being no Saturday medical morning cover in several towns in West Cork.
GPs told us this week that they only recently discovered that they had not been paid for their Saturday morning clinics since last July.
Up until then, GPs provided cover under the general medical services (GMS) scheme for anyone with a medical card, in their Saturday morning surgeries, in a number of towns, which were not covered by the SouthDoc scheme.
Now the HSE is saying it will no longer cover the cost of these Saturday morning clinics, leaving a major gap in the service for anyone seeking assistance between the hours of 9am and 1pm every Saturday.
The doctors feel they are in the middle of a power play between the HSE which appears to be putting pressure on the SouthDoc service to fill the gap. However, such power plays are of little interest to already overworked doctors, who just want to be able to treat ill patients when they call.
We can hardly expect our GPs to open their surgeries for paying-only patients, and leave the rest to resort to long journeys to already over-subscribed emergency departments in the city. Nor would they want to.
It is almost impossible for patients to be seen by GPs in other towns, where they are not regular clients, as the vast majority of surgeries have long since closed off their lists for new patients, due to the overall shortage in GPs nationally.
So a parent with a sick child, for example, is being effectively told by the HSE that they must now find their own way to Cork city for help, should an issue arise on a Saturday morning. As one GP pointed out this week, that assumes they have access to transport, but many parents may not.
The timing could not have been worse: just this week, CUH issued several statements urging the public to first consult their GPs or SouthDoc, before turning up at its emergency departments, because they are so busy.
It appears nobody told CUH that there may soon be no option to visit a GP or SouthDoc if a child or adult falls sick on a Saturday before lunchtime in many parts of West Cork.
The HSE is putting pressure on its own already critically damaged emergency care services by this sleight-of-hand decision which was brought in, without any consultation or fore-warning for the affected doctors.
The lack of consultation angered the GPs, but what was even more infuriating for these people, who chose a caring career, was the consequences of that decision – a major gap in what is often a life-saving service.
It is hard to believe that such decisions are still being made by our health service, without seeing the endgame: lives being put in danger.
It is just the latest in a long line of cutbacks in our national health service in recent times. Just last week we covered the fears of members of our national ambulance service, as a result of a poor system and lack of resources.
And this week, listeners to RTÉ’s Liveline will have heard the heartbreaking stories of those at the receiving end of cuts to the homecare services in this country.
With the HSE facing massive bills due to the cost of Covid, on top of having to rebuild a costly computer system after it was attacked by hackers, we can only wonder if the public’s health and safety will be the ultimate price to pay.