The HSE is struggling to find enough general practitioners (GPs) to treat Ukrainian refugees, with doctors in Co Clare in particular under “incredible pressure”, a senior official said on Tuesday.
“There are 3,000 refugees in Clare. The GPs in Clare are under incredible pressure because there aren’t that many GPs in Clare,” Dr Margaret Fitzgerald, National Public Health Lead at the Social Inclusion Office, said.
“Some community healthcare organisations (CHOs) provide their own solution and they bus the Ukrainians to particular places, to larger hotels where they bring in GPs,” she said.
Caring for the 31,730 refugees who have arrived into Ireland is a challenge which is only increasing as people are moved to individual and scattered accommodation, she said.
Those attending a seminar on public health and refugees were urged to get involved by Dr Fitzgerald.
“There is a lack of capacity in the system. If there are any medics here who would like to take on some work, get back on the register. There is plenty of work there,” she said.
The seminar, organised by the Faculty of Public Health, Royal College of Physicians Ireland, heard staff shortages are “the elephant in the room”.
She pointed to countries like Moldova where more than 460,000 refugees have now crossed the border, saying “our neighbours” are dealing with similar but larger challenges.
At the same seminar, Dr Kateryna Kachurets, a GP and director of the Association of Ukrainians In Ireland - Medical Help Ukraine charity, said many doctors are still catching up with care delayed by the pandemic.
“The biggest challenge is recruiting GPs to do this work,” she said.
“Trying to pull GPs into the clinics is very difficult. It was in the framework circulated a few months ago, we’d like to do it but how realistic it is I don’t know.”
She said new arrivals are not used to Ireland's GP system as in Ukraine patients can go to a gynaecologist or other specialist without referral.
“By law, Ukrainian healthcare is supposed to be free. However, in reality the patients end up paying for almost everything,” she said.
The charity continues to work with Ukrainian hospitals, supported by health groups and the public, with €750,000 "kindly donated" online, she said.
Dr Kachurets concluded her talk by reading the Derek Mahon poem