CLARE health services have been dealt a blow following confirmation Dr Michael Harty will retire from his general practice at the end of next February.
Having spent more than 37 years delivering health care to patients in West Clare, the former Independent Dáil Deputy has decided to bring the curtain down on his own medical career.
In an interview with The Clare Champion, Dr Harty (69) revealed he is isn’t taking on any new patients in his Kilmhil practice due to his imminent retirement.
However, he continues to get calls from people as far back as Kilkee and Ennis that are outside his catchment area on a weekly basis looking to join his patient list.
“I have reached the stage where it is important for me to retire. It will be difficult because you build up a relationship with patients over a 37-year period after looking after four generations of the one family.”
“This corporate knowledge is a great asset when you are treating patients. It will be a wrench for patients to lose their GP and a wrench for me to break the close relationship with patients.
“Hopefully, there will be a replacement GP. I haven’t been able to find one. The HSE are advertising this post, so hopefully they will find one.”
The former Dáil Health Committee chairman said many of his GP colleagues don’t have the capacity to take on extra patients. In view of retirements from general practice and the inability to attract GPs to work in rural Ireland, he warned it will get even more difficult for new patients seeking a GP.
“My GP friends tell me if they go to the supermarket or Mass relatives of existing patients are beseeching them to take on patients who have been attending GPs who have retired or haven’t the capacity to take on new patients.”
He said the GP manpower shortage is a national issue.
Dr Michael Kelleher, Lahinch said Dr Harty is a prominent member of the medical community, who will be a big loss to West Clare and will be difficult to replace in terms of his wealth of experience and expertise.
“Michael comes from an era where the patient and the service comes first and his own life comes second. He had a very significant commitment to his patients and local community. I would like to wish him a long and healthy retirement, which is well earned.”
Dr Kelleher said there is a critical shortage of health professionals, particularly general practitioners and hospital consultants throughout the country.
The HSE has advertised for a new general practitioner, General Medical Services Scheme in Kilmihl, with a panel size of about 700. A Rural Practice Allowance is attached to this panel.
The HSE advert states the successful candidate will be required to take up duty no later than three months from the date of offer for external candidates and no later than six weeks from the date of offer for internal candidates.
The closing date for applications for this post is December 19.
When Dr Harty opened his practice in Kilmihil in 1984, there were ten GPs in West Clare. This has fallen to six, with very little prospect of this number increasing to ten.
He recalled when he opened the Kilmihil practice there were 15 applicants for his position, but now very often there is no candidate interested in taking up a post in a rural area.
He pointed out the outdated GP contract is the same for a family doctor in West Clare or inner city Dublin and needs to be overhauled.
Over the last three years, he has seen a lot of people returning to live and work remotely in West Clare where housing is a big issue.
“There is a substantial cohort of patients in Clare who can’t find a GP, which means they are more likely to end up requiring treatment in secondary care.”
“Public health nursing in Clare is stretched to the limit. A lot of acutely ill patients with complex needs are being discharged into the community because of the shortage of acute beds.
“Community intervention teams, which are a great addition, are also under substantial pressure in relation to manpower.
He stressed investment in community care is as essential as providing more beds.
Dr Kelleher has joined with Dr John Duncan, Lahinch and the Burren Medical Centre in Corofin to become a partnership practice, which is operational for almost a year.
This was done to maintain the service for the local community and to develop the new practice, which resulted in hiring extra part-time staff.
The new partnership practice has two part-time doctors, a registrar in training in Dr Kelleher’s practice, with the possibility of another registrar coming next year.
Patients can still get a service from an individual GP of their choice.
Dr Kelleher, who practices in Lahinch, believes this new model may address the challenge of recruiting a GP in some rural areas.
“We wanted to improve the service for patients and have interlocking support for one another. It has been beneficial for all practices. It offers the opportunity to attract the next generation of health professionals.
“It is fairly novel. We are one of the first rural practices to amalgamate.”
The Lahinch-based doctor said it is difficult to see how younger doctors will be attracted to a single-handed practice in a rural area compared to the larger practices in urban areas due to the likelihood of working long hours.
by Dan Danaher