Almost 1,000 people have signed a petition to help a Ring of Kerry village secure a doctor. A continuing GP service in Sneem and its surrounding area is at risk, with the village doctor, Patrick Malone, due to retire after 34 years,
Advertising campaigns by the HSE have failed to attract a single offer for the post in the village, a National Tidy Towns’ winner.
Unfortunately, like many rural locations, running a GP practice is reportedly financially unattractive due to continuing cutbacks in the financial emergency measures programme. In recent years, many rural GP services have experienced cumulative reductions of 38% in their patients’ register.
Furthermore, there are registration restrictions for GPs not trained in Ireland.
Killarney-based doctor Gary Stack, a SouthDoc founder, suggested salaried positions should possibly be considered by the HSE for colleagues servicing the most isolated areas.
Meanwhile, a German-French couple, Jochen Gerz and his wife Laurence Vanpoulle, who live in Sneem (population 240), took the initiative to invite people to sign a petition. Having relocated from Paris 10 years ago, Mr Gerz, who come from Berlin, said: “Without a doctor there will be no village.”
Meanwhile, Dr Malone is appealing to the HSE to give serious consideration to an existing locum, Hernan Ganzo. The Spaniard is planning to apply for the position.
“I won’t be replaced unless people pressurise their TDs,” said Dr Malone. He plans to hand over his surgery immediately when a replacement is sourced.
The area of coverage extends from Derrynane to Blackwater and includes the Parknasilla holiday village complex.
Dr Malone said he was aware of instances in other locations where “eminently qualified” foreign candidates were ruled out because of technicalities to do with registration — including an Irish doctor working in Scotland. He suggested the HSE needs to “use its imagination and ease up on needless restrictions”.
The petition describes Dr Malone as “an outstanding, caring and deeply committed professional”.
However, it emphasises: “Everyone needs a doctor. Not only the elderly need a doctor; not only our pharmacy needs a doctor in order to stay open; not only the young families in the town and the many visitors we welcome each year, also the groceries and all the shops and businesses depend on the presence of a local doctor in Sneem.
“It’s two-and-a-half hours to the nearest hospital, and 40 minutes to a GP in Kenmare where the nearest doctor will be situated.
“There is no bus service to get there, it is of vital importance that we have a doctor appointed for Sneem.”
Dr Stack has been to the fore in warning about the crisis facing communities in Cork and Kerry. He said many GP practices are provided by just one doctor, and locum cover is extremely difficult to arrange in rural areas.
Up to nine other towns and villages in Co Kerry reportedly face similar crises in the near future.
This story first appeared in the Irish Examiner.