24 December 2023
By Bryan McCarthy
SouthDoc, the out-of-hours GP service providing urgent and non-emergency care in Cork and Kerry, is to introduce service enhancement plans in Macroom, Clonakilty, and North Kerry to ensure the sustainability of the service into the future.
The realignment will see, from January 2nd, 2024:
The provision of a dedicated Home Visit division for patients unable to attend a Treatment Centre
Macroom will remain by appointment only
Clonakilty to operate as usual during the week and on Saturday and Sunday from 09.00 to 18.00, with Locum Doctor cover otherwise provided from Bandon
Listowel to operate by appointment, with patients who require in-person GP consultation to travel to Tralee treatment Centre
Macroom, Clonakilty and Listowel will remain open, and appointments arranged for patients as clinically indicated
The streamlining of the service is in response to the continuing shortage of GPs and resultant growing risk of burnout of GPs who continue to provide a day-time service in these areas. It will lead to enlarged SouthDoc rotas for GPs, preventing GP burnout and future proofing the out-of-hours service.
Failure to implement the service development plans will ultimately result in a reduction in the number of Doctors and lead to potential interruptions to the service provision.
SouthDoc Chairman Dr. Andrew Crosbie stated, “These changes are essential to maintain a SouthDoc service in these areas. The out-of-hours service is operated by member GPs who have increasingly busy day-time practice and this is a particular challenge in rural areas where there has been a significant reduction in the number of GPs over recent decades. We are now at a real pinch point and without this realignment, there’s a real risk of us not being able to maintain the service going forward.”
Dr Crosbie explained that in 2006, there were 162,000 patient consultations but last year this reached 231,000, yet GP numbers are declining. “That’s 40% more appointments with a reduced number of GPs. Some areas are more acute than others and we have to respond accordingly to ensure SouthDoc continues to operate there. Additionally, more than 25% of our GPs are aged over 60 and we are simply not going to be able to attract GPs to replace them in rural areas where there is a greater onus on them for out-of-hours service than in larger urban areas where, because of the greater GP numbers, they will work fewer out-of-hours rotas.”
He continued: “We have successfully this autumn introduced similar enhancements to bolster our North Cork and West Cork services. We have already seen an increase in expressions of interest to join day-time practice in those areas. It has allowed us to increase direct employment of Doctors, and this, coupled with the additional Locum Doctor support, will ensure we can continue to deliver our out-of-hours service.”
Over 60% of SouthDoc patients consult with a GP within two hours and more than 80% of patients exit the SouthDoc service within 3 hours of making contact. Without these realignments in North Kerry and Cork, this standard could not be maintained, he added.
Dr Gary Stack, Medical Director, SouthDoc said, “It is not sustainable to ask busy GPs to take on extra shifts at night and particularly at weekends when they’ve already got packed lists. So the current model of out-of-hours work is no longer sustainable, either for daytime general practice or for out-of-hours in rural areas impacted by GP shortage. Patients will continue to be seen in a safe and timely fashion. We’ve seen this work without issue elsewhere, including in North Cork and West Cork, so what we are doing is in the best interest of patients and the best interests of sustaining daytime general practice and out-of-hours general practice in this region.”
The enhanced service delivery model will come into effect on January 2, 2024.
SouthDoc to improve service for Macroom and Clonakilty from January
24 December 2023