BY JACKIE KEOGH
THE imminent closure of a GP’s surgery in Skibbereen has highlighted the increasing pressure on existing medical centres.
The Cork Road Medical Clinic – which is due to close on May 19th next – was being run by a locum following Dr Pat Bailey’s decision to relocate to Canada where, he says, ‘GPs are better resourced.’
The closure has caused upset among many patients who are finding it difficult to register with other already-strained GP services.
One woman, who had been a patient of Dr Bailey’s for 11 years – from the time he practised at the Medical Centre in Market Street and subsequently relocated to his own clinic at Cork Road – told The Southern Star she was ‘annoyed’ by the sudden closure of the centre.
She and her family members have since had to find another doctor.
‘Because I go to a lady doctor at the Medical Centre in Market St they were able to register the rest of my family – my husband and my three children – but my parents had to go to Bantry to get a doctor, and a friend had to go to Schull because all of the practices are full, or nearly full. I was annoyed because if my lady GP didn’t take me in Skibbereen, I didn’t know where I was going to register my three children.’
In Skibbereen, Susan Rees, the practice manager at the Medical Centre in Market St, issued a statement saying: ‘The Medical Centre has been in existence for over 50 years. It is, and always has been, happy to take care of the people in the Skibbereen area.’
But it appears that some medical centres have put geographical restrictions on accepting new patients, on the grounds of safety.
The Southern Star contacted a number of medical centres in West Cork to check availability and Shiona James, the practice manager at the Mizen Medical Practice in Schull, confirmed: ‘We are registering people at the moment.’
However, distance is an issue in respect of the medical centres in Bantry and Rosscarbery.
A spokesperson for the Marino Medical Centre in Bantry confirmed: ‘We are taking new patients but distance is a factor. We never turn people away, but distance would be an issue for safety reasons.’
She said: ‘A radius of nine to ten miles would be ideal because that would take 16 minutes to get to someone.’ The spokesperson said time is an important factor, particularly in the care of the elderly.
Dr Michael Kingston, who works with the Bantry Bay Medical Centre, also confirmed: ‘We have had a number of inquires from Skibbereen, and, yes, we are taking on new patients.’
But he said: ‘It would be practically impossible to provide house calls to people who are elderly or have an infirmity and can’t get into the surgery.’
According to Dr Kingston, ‘There is another, bigger issue to consider and that is the need to attract GPs to rural Ireland in the future.’
He said a third of GPs in Ireland are due to retire in the next 10 years and a huge number of recent graduates are emigrating to Australia, New Zealand and Canada.
A spokesperson for the HSE told The Southern Star: ‘The Community Healthcare Organisation has worked to ensure continuity of service for patients on the GMS list (ie medical card holders).
‘We have arranged for ongoing locum services to be provided at the centre in Skibbereen until another GP takes up the GMS contract on a permanent basis. The locum/future permanent GP will also continue to provide services to non-GMS patients.’
In response, Dr Bailey explained: ‘People can access their notes by requesting them and a transfer to a GP of their choice can be made as per usual practice.
‘I have placed an ad for several weeks in The Southern Star to make people aware of the closing. There is a chance that it may remain open but details have not been ironed out yet.
‘I regret closing, but it is my only choice at this time. I have been trying to expand the practice for several years but was unsuccessful in attracting new doctors to the practice for long-term work.
‘I decided to take leave to work in Canada and sample GP experience there, which has been much different to Ireland in that GPs are better resourced and with much more access to diagnostic services for patients. I would also like to say thank you to the superb staff that worked with me at Cork Road who unfortunately have had to deal with a lot of the closing in my absence.’