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West Cork’s healthcare system is ‘in crisis’ say angry GPs

August 9th, 2021 1:05 PM

By Jackie Keogh

Bantry Hospital is suffering from a staffing shortage. (Photo: Andy Gibson)

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WEST CORK’S healthcare system could ‘fall like dominoes’ if admissions to Bantry General Hospital (BGH) are not reopened, according to local GPs.

‘Our out-of-hours GP care model in West Cork was already under huge strain,’ according to Dr Laura Cullen, ‘but if Bantry General Hospital can’t get back up running, I fear our fragile system will fall like dominoes.’

The Bantry-based GP told The Southern Star she put down ‘the hardest day ever’ with Southdoc on the Monday of the bank holiday weekend after patients had to be diverted to Cork University Hospital (CUH).

Her colleague Dr Paul O’Sullivan said he was also ‘shattered’ after working with Southdoc on Saturday because admissions to Bantry General Hospital were not possible due a staff shortage at the hospital.

The staff shortage arose after one of the hospital consultants went on leave for a medical procedure.

‘Patients had no option but to come to the out-of-hours service and we had to send several patients onwards to CUH, which meant a 90-minute drive, or more, in the hope of being admitted to the emergency department,’ said Dr O’Sullivan. ‘It’s just not good enough.’

Independent TD Michael Collins said promises that the admissions closure would be a two-day event and that the appointment of a locum would see the reopening of admissions on Thursday July 29th were ‘false’.

This week Deputy Collins noted that BGH remained closed to public admissions.

‘This is a huge crisis for the people of West Cork and beyond. I feel genuinely sorry for doctors in the Bantry hospital catchment area, as well as ambulance crew, who are either sending and taking patients from West Cork to Tralee General Hospital, or an overcrowded CUH.

‘It is nothing short of a shambles,’ he added. ‘The government has turned their backs on Bantry hospital and the people of West Cork.’

Deputy Christopher O’Sullivan (FF) described the situation as ‘a mess’ and a result of ‘the perfect storm’. 

‘It’s impacting the GPs and staff of both Bantry and CUH, the already stretched ambulance service, and most importantly the people of West Cork,’ he said.

But he added that management and the HSE are now working to re-allocate two locum consultant physicians from CUH to Bantry. ‘This can’t happen soon enough,’ he said, adding: ‘I’ve spoken with Taoiseach Micheál Martin, and Minister for Health Stephen Donnelly, pleading with them to intervene and speed up the process.’

Deputy Holly Cairns said she would be raising the issue of Bantry with the ministers for health and public expenditure. 

A spokesperson for the HSE confirmed that due to ‘staffing challenges’ the acute medical assessment unit at the hospital was ‘bypassed’ on a number of occasions in the last week with medical presentations being taken directly to CUH.

The spokesperson said all other services are functioning as normal. Two additional general consultants are due to take up posts in Bantry in September.

In addition, the recruitment process to fill the vacant general medical consultant post is ‘progressing’. In the meantime, management is asking people to think about all their care and treatment options and patients are advised to contact their local injury unit, GP or Southdoc in the first instance.

Dr O’Sullivan said the HSE statement is a clear indication that the problem will persist until September at the earliest.

‘GPs have had no direct communications from the HSE on this matter, which is unacceptable,’ he said. ‘They are closing the hospital and leaving care for all medical patients to the GPs and Southdoc.’

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