THE out-of-hours SouthDoc service in Castletownbere is ‘on the verge of collapse’ and the entire health service in West Cork is ‘hanging by a thread’.
That’s the view of local TD Michael Collins who says urgent action needs to be taken to sort out the issue.
‘We had problems securing a locum for the acute medical assessment unit at Bantry General Hospital, and our ambulance service is at breaking point,’ said Independent TD Michael Collins, ‘and now the out-of-hours Southdoc service in Castletownbere is struggling for the want of a locum.’
Dr Fiona Kelly of Bank Place Clinic confirmed that the retirement of Dr Ernest Cranna, the area’s resident after-hours GP, on September 1st, has now left them without cover.
‘Previously, when he was on holidays, the locum company was always able to provide us with a replacement,’ said Dr Kelly, who confirmed that the next replacement won’t be in place until October 26th.
The lack of an after-hours doctor has meant that Dr Kelly and Dr Jacqueline Glisson are now covering Monday and Tuesday nights. ‘The current situation is unsustainable,’ said Dr Kelly. ‘Our day job is taxing – we can do 12 hours days in the clinic … and then we have to provide night time cover on Mondays and Tuesdays.
‘We had no choice but to ask Bantry SouthDoc to help out because it is impossible to provide 24/7 cover ourselves,’ she added.
Bantry SouthDoc is effectively on call on the Beara Peninsula from 6pm until 8am every Wednesday and Thursday night.
Last weekend, the service managed to secure a temporary locum but his cover ended at 6pm on Sunday evening, far short of the 8am on Monday morning requirement. Bantry SouthDoc is also being asked to cover weekends, but Deputy Collins said that service is already overstretched and is more than an hour away.
‘In situations where a doctor isn’t available,’ the TD said, ‘people have no choice but to phone the ambulance service and everyone knows that it, too, is at breaking point.’
A solution to the problem, according to Dr Kelly, would be to provide locums with a two-year visa, instead of the three-month visas they are allotted.
‘It would give them job security and would provide continuity for people of Beara,’ she said. Although the cover currently provided by Bantry is appreciated, both Dr Kelly and Michael Collins pointed out that the service is less than ideal for the two-month period until October 26th.
Deputy Collins called for a real, practical solution because, he said, that ‘people don’t stop being sick to fit scheduling problems’.
A HSE spokesperson said it was in touch with SouthDoc and ‘we understand that an arrangement is in place to resolve this as quickly as possible. In the meantime, we are engaging with SouthDoc as a matter of urgency to make sure there is no disruption in service.’