Ageing island populations a special challenge says senior HSE primary care facilitator

A senior HSE primary care facilitator, involved in the first review of healthcare services on Irish islands, has said their ageing populations are a “particular challenge” that will have to be addressed.

Maeve McDermott has visited most of the populated islands in the last year and will have completed a national island-services review by the end of summer.

It will be submitted to the national director of primary care, John Hennessy, for consideration and possible implementation.

Ms McDermott said that the islands had previously been visited and reviewed by the old health boards, but this review was likely the first in which they had been taken as a group of communities.

“There are quite a lot of things that are similar about islands, but there are some differences about them, too,” Ms McDermott said.

The review checked on island demographics, existing services, transport considerations and, in a series of meetings with island communities, the views of people living there.

Ms McDermott said that some islands had resident GPs and/or 24-hour nursing, and some islands had populations that grew considerably during the summer months, due to tourism and Irish-language students.

However, she said the expected changes in population, regarding the proportion of older people living on islands, may require changes in services.

“Most people do not want to move [to the mainland] for care,” she said. “There are population challenges coming down the line.”

Ms McDermott said that the possible shortage of younger and middle-aged people living on the islands was something that needed to be considered, when discussing health provision, particularly since the preference for most people was to stay living in their home place, as they aged, while being supported by family members, if required.

Of those services, she said: “There are people in the community that might be able to provide them.

“People would also like there to be more services and not have to travel.”

Ms McDermott said that islanders would like access to more health services, even if it was on a regular, visiting basis.

She said islanders who attended meetings had realistic views as to the services available to them.

They had expressed the view that the past two winters had been among the worst they had experienced, and this had sometimes hampered the ability of medical staff to visit some island communities.

She said this had not proved an insurmountable problem, given the availability of helicopter services and lifeboats.

Ms McDermott said there was little chance of any services being cut back as a result of the review, stating: “I cannot see we would be suggesting that anything would be curtailed.

“The islands are particularly challenging communities, but a lot of the issues are similar to the rest of the country,” she said.

On the issue of ageing populations, she added: “This is going to be an issue in a lot of places, not just on the islands.”

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