Immigration rules are posing threat to Shannondoc service

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THE Chairman of Shannondoc, the out-of-hours family doctor service, has called for politicians across the Mid-West region to join ranks in a push for locum permit rule changes to help prevent cuts to the service.

Dr Pat Morrissey says that Mid West Shannondoc is currently experiencing an unprecedented shortage of locum general practitioners due to the full impact of the Atypical Working Scheme permit rules enforced by the Irish Naturalisation and Immigration Service (INIS).

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Locums are vital for keeping out-of-hours services running, particularly in rural areas where the fall-off in GPs due to declining population has impacted heavily on Shannondoc’s ability to maintain operations over recent years.

Said Dr Morrissey: “Due to the lack of GPs from within Ireland and certainly in rural areas, out-of-hours services depend largely on GP locums, particularly for keeping overnight services running.

“However, new permit rules introduced have effectively cut-off that supply chain and we are faced now with having to introduce restricted services in certain areas.

“This is not an issue exclusive to Shannondoc but, rather, is replicated across the country. This is especially the case in areas that have experienced large-scale depopulation, which are typically outside the main urban centres of the country.

“An example of how much things have changed due to the permit rules is that last year we would have been able to secure up to 20 GPs on any given week from one particular locum agency. Unfortunately, this month the same agency has no locum for us.  That’s how challenged the situation has become and the only way we can deal with this is to close certain clinics overnight.  We have no choice if we don’t have the GPs.”

Dr. Morrissey said that the only way forward is for the permit rules to be reversed and he called on local politicians to help.

“We are now calling on all political representatives in the Mid-West to put the necessary pressure on to reverse the permit rule changes. Unless this is done, we will be left with no option but to introduce restrictions,” he said.

“Those restrictions will hit rural areas, which have already had far too many cuts across different services over the past decade or so. A simple reversal to the locum permit rules will ensure that GP out-of-hours operations, at least, are not among those services.”