Nine Kerry towns and villages will soon be without a GP, and towns which have managed to restore doctor services are doing so under sharing arrangements.
A Killarney medical doctor has also warned of the county’s “encroaching desertification”, adding that more schools, too, will close in rural areas.
One busy village, Rathmore on the Cork-Kerry border, has been without a GP since a doctor retired over a year ago.
Ballyheigue in north Kerry only managed to attract one applicant in its bid to maintain a GP service. But a campaign has led to the reopening of the surgery there, due to an arrangement with Abbeydorney.
Overall, it is expected that nine locations will be without a GP in the next few years, due to retirements.
A public meeting has been told of the “sheer impossibility” of attracting younger doctors to practices in locations which have also seen funding supports cut by up to 80%.
Ballyheigue-based councillor John Brassil (FF) has been one of the most vocal campaigners on the issue of GP services.
He is looking for the reinstatement of rural practice payments immediately, as an absolute necessity.
But Dr Gary Stack said the call of support from county councillors is probably “too little, too late”.
The rural practice scheme had allowed GPs with fewer than 1,000 patients to employ secretaries and nurses, but the withdrawal of funding for such services was only one of the cuts suffered by rural practices over the past five years.
Mileage allowances to allow GPs to visit elderly patients have been practically scrapped and income in many medical centres is down by 80%.
However, more is needed than simply reinstating the rural practice funding, Dr Stack asserted.
He said the whole fabric of rural Kerry, including many large towns, is being unwoven.
Garda stations are closed; Garda numbers are reduced; post offices and courthouses are closed, he said.
“GPs are going and the schools and children will follow next,” Dr Stack said.
It has been claimed “some of the most beautiful locations in Europe” — the towns and villages across the Ring of Kerry — are looking at the lack of GP services as a further attack on their social fabric.
Locations concerned include Waterville, Sneem, and Caherciveen.
The axing of services has been spread over four peninsulas, from Sneem to Anascaul and from Castlegregory up to Tarbert on the Shannon.
Independent alliance councillor Michael Gleeson said the challenging solution was to try and stem the haemorrhage, abroad, of young doctors.
At the January meeting of Kerry County Council, appeals were made to officials to cut commercial rates to “keep the lights on” in towns such as Caherciveen.
Cllr Danny Healy-Rae said the streetscapes in a lot of towns were “devoid of any light now. The walls of the houses will start to go. The levies must be dropped in towns with a serious decline in population.
“These were once great towns, but sadly it is not the way now.”
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