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Shannondoc services slashed

THE Mid-West’s out-of-hours GP service, Shannondoc, has confirmed that due to a continued shortage of doctors, it is no longer able to maintain existing out-of-hours service levels across all its centres. Shannondoc, a not-for-profit service delivered by GPs in the region, will introduce changes to its Killaloe, Kilrush and Ennistymon centres over the coming weeks.

The Killaloe clinic will open during weekdays only on an as-needs basis, with a mobile doctor servicing the centre, while at weekends the operating hours will change from 9am to 9pm to 2pm to 6pm, with patients seen at Limerick, Ennis and Nenagh centres outside those hours.

Shannondoc’s Kilrush and Ennistymon service will relocate to Miltown Malbay during weekdays, with the same operating hours applying. Both centres will be operational on Saturdays and Sundays up to 7pm, instead of 9pm as it is currently.

Kilrush county councillor Ian Lynch has called for an immediate public meeting on the issue, noting that the 35-mile journey from Kilbaha to Miltown Malbay would take at least an hour. The distance between Kilbaha and Ennis is 47 miles.

“This has been festering for a long time. People are angry and if needs be, we’ll have to call a public meeting. It’s not good enough. This is going to put extra pressure on the doctors that will be left in Shannondoc and in accident and emergency,” he said, before noting that the HSE-owned facilities in Kilrush and Ennistymon are provided free of charge, while the annual cost of the Miltown Shannondoc building is believed to be €35,000.

Shannondoc was created in 2002 to provide an improved medical service to patients within the Mid-West Region. The decision to reduce the service was taken at last week’s AGM.

In relation to the changes, Shannondoc chairman Dr Pat Morrissey said the continuing decline in GP numbers in rural areas remains a worrying trend and unless the matter is redressed, further changes may also be enforced in future.

“These changes are regrettable and not what we want but if we don’t have the doctors, we cannot provide the service. Take Killaloe, for example, we are down two doctors on last year and see just four patients per night across a five-hour period during weekdays.”

Dr Morrissey said that the more rural the area, the bigger the problem.

“In Kilrush and Ennistymon, for example, we are down to just 15 GPs from 22 only 10 years ago. Across the two centres, we see just eight patients in total from Monday to Friday. We have a huge shortage of GPs and those that remain are already overstretched and we cannot expect them to sit for five hours in a centre to see as few as three patients. They will already have put in a long day’s work at that stage,” he stated.

Shannondoc CEO Michael Finucane said there is no alternative but to make the changes.

“We greatly regret these changes but we simply cannot continue to provide the service with the current resources. There’s a wider issue here around rural decline and until population numbers start coming back up in those areas, we are not going to have the GPs. Certain initiatives could be taken to, at least, try and encourage greater locum coverage, like restoring the VAT exemption status that locums enjoyed prior to 2013. Also, changes to immigration permit status for locum services would help,” the Shannondoc CEO stated.

Peter O’Connell

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