An out-of-hours GP service’s refusal to reopen clinics in Cork and Kerry has been slammed as “scandalous”.
SouthDoc unilaterally decided not to reopen clinics in Blackpool, Cork city, and Listowel, Co Kerry, despite requests from the HSE to do so.
A spokesperson for the HSE’s Cork Kerry Community Healthcare said: “We were informed verbally this afternoon that SouthDoc has today changed its position and has decided not to resume this level of service at this time in the context of the sharp increase in Covid-19 numbers.
In a statement, SouthDoc pointed to the "exponential" growth in Covid-19 case numbers in recent weeks, and said they had a responsibility to keep patients and staff safe.
"The Covid situation has deteriorated dramatically since December, and what was planned and appropriate then has been superseded by events," said Dr Joanne Montgomery, SouthDoc chairperson, in a statement.
Dr Montgomery said SouthDoc was "fully committed" to providing care and the situation remains "under constant review" but "in the interests of patient, staff and doctor safety", it would continue to consolidate its care offerings and would not reopen the clinics in Blackpool and Listowel.
The move leaves those on the north side of Cork city and in the Listowel area of Kerry forced to travel long distances to access out-of-hours GP services.
Sinn Féin TD Thomas Gould, who has been campaigning to have the centres reopen, slammed the refusal to comply with the HSE’s requests to reopen the centres as “scandalous”.
“There are serious questions here about the ability of SouthDoc to provide a service to the people of Cork and Kerry,” he said.
“The HSE themselves have confirmed that they disagree with this decision.
“The treatment of the HSE by SouthDoc has been disgraceful. We cannot allow private operators to behave in this way and essentially deny healthcare provision to certain areas of Cork city and Kerry.
The HSE has a contract with SouthDoc to provide out-of-hours GP services to medical card holders in Cork and Kerry. The SouthDoc centres in Blackpool and Listowel were closed at the beginning of the pandemic but never reopened.
While the Blackpool centre has been closed, vulnerable families have been forced to walk for miles across Cork city at night with sick children or pay an expensive taxi fare to access the only open SouthDoc centre off the Kinsale Road Roundabout on the southside, which is only easily accessed by car.
Despite the continued closures of the two services, Mr Gould appealed to people to contact SouthDoc if they needed to, to prevent medical conditions worsening which could result in more pressure on already overstretched hospitals.
“With rising Covid-19 numbers and the real fear that our health service is at capacity, the fear is that the HSE’s previous warning of SouthDoc Blackpool’s closure resulting in additional presentations to emergency wards will be realised,” he said.
“In the meantime, I would encourage people to contact SouthDoc if they need to. Given that we are in the midst of a global pandemic, accessing healthcare has never been more important.”
On Tuesday, the HSE had confirmed that the Blackpool and Listowel services were to reopen by appointment from January 18.
A response from Cork Kerry Community Healthcare to the evolving situation on Friday said: “We were advised by SouthDoc that following consideration of their position in relation to delivering services in the context of Covid-19 activity, that its Blackpool and Listowel centres would reopen by appointment from January 18th. This followed significant engagement between Cork Kerry Community Healthcare and SouthDoc.
“We were informed verbally this afternoon that SouthDoc has today changed its position and has decided not to resume this level of service at this time in the context of the sharp increase in Covid-19 numbers.
“We are concerned at SouthDoc’s lack of consultation with the HSE on this decision. We are seeking further information as to what led to this decision and assurance from SouthDoc that it will now be reviewed in the context of the extraordinary pressure that all health services are under at this time.
"We are committed to ensuring that appropriate out-of-hours GP services are available to medical card holders in both areas.”