By SiobhÁn Cronin
and Kieran O’Mahony
WEST Cork is one of the country’s worst blackspots for the new free GP scheme for under 6s, with not one GP signed up to the scheme in the towns of Bandon, Skibbereen or Clonakilty, to date.
A total of 12 practices out of 38 have signed up, representing just 32pc of GPs in the region.
As a result, a government party deputy has urged GPs in West Cork to reconsider their stance.
FG Deputy Noel Harrington said this week that he was concerned at the lack of uptake of the scheme in the region, especially given there is not one GP participating in the scheme, from the west side of the city as far as Drimoleague – a distance of 60km.
‘The low acceptance figure as of today is a concern, particularly to the thousands of parents in West Cork that will not be in a position to avail of the free GP scheme to children under six years of age,’ said Deputy Harrington.
‘I accept that the GPs have some concerns with the contract, but it is important to note that two-thirds of GPs nationally have applied to be included,’ he added.
‘The names of those GPs that have signed are available but it is clear that a large area of the centre of West Cork does not have a participating practice. I would urge those GPs to reconsider in the best interests of West Cork families,’ he said.
A total of 7,506 West Cork children under six are now eligible for free GP care and Giselle Foley, a mother of four children from Kilmacsimon said she was very disappointed that no GPs in Bandon had signed up for the scheme. She will now consider taking her children as far as Cork city to avail of it.
‘Our own GP is in Bandon and hasn’t signed up to the scheme and the nearest GP to me that has registered is in Cork city,’ she said. ‘I would consider switching my GP to avail of the scheme, especially as I have a large family,’ Giselle told The Southern Star.
‘I don’t really know why none of the doctors have signed up. Are they afraid that parents will abuse the scheme and clog up the surgeries or something? The thing is that it’s a real family community in Bandon, with three major surgeries, and they are the ones that should sign up, as they know their community and it would also be more convenient for me and other parents alike,’ she said.
With four children under the age of 10, Giselle said that it can become costly for parents bringing their children to the doctor, especially when it involves repeated calls.
‘We’ll take our children to the doctor when we absolutely need to, but the younger ones can easily pick up illnesses more than the older ones, and it can prove very expensive with a large family.’
She added she would now have to weigh up the cost of travelling to Cork with the savings she would make through the scheme.
Meanwhile, a doctor at Bandon Medical Centre has said that while he has no issue with the Under 6s free GP scheme as such, he felt that the HSE should have communicated more effectively about the scheme.
‘It’s great that money is going into primary care, which is all about keeping people healthy and we welcome the idea as such, but we are involved in evidence-based practice and there is no evidence to support wellness checks for this age group,’ said Dr Donogh Cotter.
‘We’re worried that our same day service won’t be possible with this scheme, as there will be longer waiting times for patients and this could affect those who are more seriously ill,’ he said.
Dr Cotter added that resources are scarce, so they should go to ‘people that need them’.
‘The under sixes are, by and large, a healthy group and perhaps it should be given to older people who don’t have a medical card and would be afraid to visit their GP, due to the cost,’ he suggested.
‘It sounds like a good thing on paper, but I think resources should be put into promoting healthy eating and exercise for this age category.’
Labour Deputy Michael McCarthy said he was sure that the situation in West Cork would change, and more GPs would come on board.
‘I am confident that we will see an increasing number of GPs opting into the scheme and that children in Bandon, Skibbereen and Clonakilty will have access to free GP care.’
This optimism was echoed by FG Deputy Jim Daly who said: ‘I am confident that an adequate number of practitioners will sign up to the scheme, after a period of time, to serve the people of West Cork. However, it is unlikely that all GPs will participate – just as they do not with the current medical card scheme.’
The HSE admitted that the figure in this region was not satisfactory: ‘The figure is low in West Cork and in South Tipperary, but it is expected that this will rise and although it is a long way off the 94% of Donegal, and the 90% of North Cork, we are expecting that more GPs will register over the coming days.’
In a statement to the Southern Star, Chris Goodey, the chief executive, at the National Association of GPs, which represents many of the unsigned doctors, said it was ‘unacceptable’ that the Minister had embroiled patients in the dispute. ‘All of that could have been avoided if there had been real collaborative engagement with general practitioners on the development of this scheme,’ he said.
‘There was a real opportunity here to set us all on the path of creating a primary care service which would be able to meet the needs of all patients into the future. Unfortunately, many GPs feel that the only way left to them to prevent serious patient safety issues as a result of the scheme as currently designed, is for them not to sign the contract in its present format. I can assure you that this is not a decision that has been taken lightly by any doctor.’