HSE says it couldn't penalise SouthDoc service for its closures in Cork and Kerry

TD tells PAC that patients were using hospital A&E in wake of the GP service's unilateral decision to close two of its facilities
HSE says it couldn't penalise SouthDoc service for its closures in Cork and Kerry

At yesterday's PAC, Anne O’Connor, the chief operations officer of the HSE, said the health service didn't have evidence that SouthDoc 'didn't deliver a service'. File Picture: Leon Farrell/Photocall Ireland

The HSE has said that it isn’t in a position to penalise the SouthDoc out-of-hours GP service after the prolonged closure of two of its facilities as “there isn’t evidence that they weren’t providing a service”.

The executive’s appearance yesterday morning before the Public Accounts Committee (PAC) saw the issue of two service closures by SouthDoc discussed at length.

It emerged in advance of the meeting that SouthDoc had previously elected not to reopen its clinics at Blackpool in Cork and Listowel in Kerry after their closure due to Covid despite the service receiving a €200,000 increase in funding from the HSE for a 2021 budget of €7.5m. 

HSE repeatedly raised concerns with SouthDoc

The HSE had previously 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”. Both reopened in early September. 

However, HSE chief operating officer Anne O’Connor said: “We’ve looked at their [SouthDoc’s] activity, we’ve looked at their costs, and we don’t have evidence that they didn’t deliver a service.”

Addressing Colm Burke, Fine Gael TD in Cork North-Central, Ms O’Connor said that despite the two services being closed, “patients would be referred to another centre”.

She dismissed the idea that patients were attending Cork University Hospital rather than being referred to another SouthDoc facility up to four miles away, something she said is “not necessarily” the case.

“These centres are not walk-in facilities,” she said. “We’ve looked at their costs, their activity would indicate that they still saw a lot of people.”

Cork East Labour TD Seán Sherlock said there is “a fear” that the €7.5m SouthDoc service level agreement “is not buying enough scrutiny of the service being provided”: 

More and more people are going to CUH on an A&E basis and bypassing SouthDoc because they are not confident they are being seen at SouthDoc.

Plan to shut Owenacurra facility 'pushed out'

At the same meeting, Paul Reid, the HSE chief executive, told Mr Sherlock that plans to shut the Owenacurra mental health facility in Midleton, Co Cork, by the end of next month have been “pushed out” to manage the 19 permanent residents of the centre “on a case-by-case basis”, although no clarity as to the exact closure date was given.

That decision was welcomed on Thursday evening by local Green Party councillor for Midleton, Liam Quaide, although he added that “what the residents and families need more than anything now is certainty about the future of the service”.

“It would be unethical to subject a group of people with significant mental health difficulties to a further ordeal of uncertainty over the coming months,” Mr Quaide said.

The PAC meeting also heard that as many as 29 separate hand sanitisers were sourced during the initial Covid procurement phase over which the HSE and Department of Agriculture may have had questions.

Sinn Fein’s Imelda Munster produced a freedom of information response she had received from the HSE suggesting that a large number of such biocidal products had been under scrutiny and may have been placed in quarantine.

She said that following last week’s hearing, she had been under the impression that there were no other sanitiser products currently sitting unused in storage.

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