By Kieran O’Mahony
THE future of the SouthDoc out-of-hours GP service could be in danger if the current permit system for non-national doctors is not addressed, a GP has warned.
Dr Garry Stack, the medical director of SouthDoc, which covers Cork and Kerry – is calling for a resolution to the work permit situation for doctors from non-EEA (European Economic Area) countries.
Otherwise, the service will not be able to maintain its pool of doctors, and may lead to reduced, or amalgamated, services, it is believed.
Speaking to The Southern Star this week, the Killarney-based GP said that the current permit system, whereby the non-EEA doctors can only work for 90 days before having to leave the country and reapply for a permit, is clearly ‘not working’.
This ‘three months in and two months out’ system already means that SouthDoc could be short two doctors for this weekend in Cork and Kerry.
‘Our ‘Red Eye’ doctors, who come from non-EEA countries, man our service at night and at weekends, and we are dependent on them to supplement our existing workforce,’ said Dr Stack.
‘However, the current work permit system which sees doctors having to leave the country after 90 days and then apply for another visa after 30 days, which then takes another 30 days to process – is increasing the difficulty in trying to recruit the ‘Red Eye’ doctors and trying to maintain the pool of available doctors,’ he said.
He also pointed out that if these doctors have to leave the country during their visa period of 90 days, then they forfeit the remainder of their days. ‘In the last two months it has happened [on occasion] that there wasn’t an available doctor, which means people in need of medical attention were forced to travel to A&E,’ he said.
He added that meetings are ongoing with the Irish Naturalisation and Immigration Service (INIS) to see if a resolution can be achieved.
But this week the Department of Justice denied there was any issue. ‘In recent months INIS has consulted closely with the HSE to determine if the terms of the scheme require any amendments. The HSE have advised that they do not consider that any amendments to the current terms of the scheme are required at this time,’ it told The Southern Star.
Meanwhile, Fianna Fáil TD Margaret Murphy O’Mahony has called for the issue to be clarified.
‘There are glaring anomalies … and the process of waiting makes no sense,’ she said.
She also called on the Minister for Health to engage with SouthDoc on their request for additional funding to maintain its level of service.
‘Reducing the number of centres or amalgamating services will seriously undermine people’s confidence in their ability to access emergency healthcare in an expedient manner. We’re talking about very rural areas where public transport is non-existent.’