Two of SouthDoc's busiest clinics were kept closed until recent weeks despite HSE funding for the Cork-Kerry out-of-hours GP service being increased this year.
SouthDoc previously decided not to reopen its clinics in Blackpool, Cork City, and Listowel, Co Kerry, despite requests from the HSE to do so.
In spite of that fact, the budget made available to SouthDoc by the HSE via a service level agreement (SLA), was actually increased for 2021 from €7.3m to €7.5m, its first such hike for five years.
The HSE, whose chief executive Paul Reid will appear before the Public Accounts Committee (PAC) today to discuss the issues seen with SouthDoc, recently informed the PAC that “full funding” had been provided to the service during the public health emergency “in light of the new requirements to be able to support the provision of the service to the public in alternative ways during the time period concerned”.
The two clinics which had been closed finally reopened in recent weeks — Listowel in July and Blackpool earlier this month — although the latter is understood to be operating with just one GP as opposed to the standard three.
The HSE repeatedly raised its concerns with SouthDoc, indicating that the unilateral closure of the Listowel and Blackpool facilities amounted to “at the very least a breach of our trust and working arrangements”.
In the HSE’s briefing note for the PAC in late August, the executive stressed that funding had been provided to SouthDoc “in respect of the overall service and not allocated to individual treatment centres”.
While the aforementioned two centres had remained closed, it said, “in line with public health guidelines … all patients were still in receipt of a full out of hours service which may have been provided in a different location or via telehealth”.
SouthDoc was contacted for comment but had not responded at the time of publication.
Thomas Gould, Sinn Féin TD for Cork North Central and a harsh critic of the closures of Listowel and Blackpool SouthDoc, said the HSE had renewed SouthDoc’s SLA without a public tender.
“I believe that there are serious questions here to be answered when you’re dealing with taxpayers’ money and companies like SouthDoc not matching the SLA they agreed to,” he said.