GPs ‘refused to invest’ in SouthDoc

Doctors refused to invest in SouthDoc, an out-of-hours service involving around 500 GPs, despite claims that it was financially “on its knees”, an employment appeals tribunal (EAT) has heard.

Yesterday, former SIPTU branch secretary for Kerry, Donie Doody, told the tribunal that he had written to the doctors in 2009 asking them to pay a contribution, but that “they said they wouldn’t”.

The co-op, which serves a population of more than 600,000 in Cork and Kerry, is fully funded by the HSE. In 2011, the co-op received HSE grants worth €7.65m.

The “serious financial difficulties” in which SouthDoc, trading as South West Doctors-on- call Ltd, finds itself, have been repeatedly outlined at the hearing in which 22 SouthDoc employees are pursuing a claim for compensation on foot of a pay cut imposed in 2009. SouthDoc is appealing paying the compensation.

Yesterday one SouthDoc employee, John Quinn, a retired garda sergeant who is now a co-op driver, was asked if he felt the doctors, who operate the service, should contribute towards its funding.

“They seem to be the beneficiaries of everything,” he said. They had receptionists, drivers, heating, lighting, medicines, call centres, staff — all funded by the HSE, Mr Quinn said. Other co-ops, such as CareDoc, which covers the south-east, reinvested some of their earnings in the service, but that was not the case at SouthDoc, Mr Quinn said. It was his belief that SouthDoc was “a good co-op for the doctors”. He also claimed there were “certain directors who are not medical directors who are getting a fee”.

Mr Quinn said in his opinion, the whole financial structure of SouthDoc needed to be changed.

SouthDoc annual financial reports do not indicate what individual doctors earn on foot of providing the service.

The company imposed a 20% pay cut on employees in 2009. Following a ballot, the majority of 122 SIPTU-represented workers — drivers and receptionists — voted to accept the cut, which was subsequently reduced to 10%. However 22 employees who transferred to the Independent Workers Union around the time of the ballot, argue that the pay cut was unlawful, because they, through their union, did not agree to it.

The tribunal has heard that SouthDoc endured successive budget cuts that, by the end of 2012, amounted to a 34.6% reduction since 2007.

South West Doctors on Call Ltd was set up in 2001 and provides family doctor services for urgent medical needs. It operates outside of normal hours — evenings, nights, weekends, and bank holidays — in the Cork and Kerry region.

SouthDoc also provides a call-out service to those unable to travel.


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