SHANNONDOC, the out of hours GP service for Limerick and Clare, were dealing with one patient every minute over Christmas as they faced a tsunami of infections and respiratory illness.
On one day alone, the service dealt with 12,500 calls – the same number of calls it would normally get in an entire month.
According to information supplied in response to a question at last week’s meeting of the Regional Health Forum West, the service operated on a 24/7 basis over Christmas and provided 579 more GP appointments – an increase of 40 per cent – when compared to 2022.
“A significant portion of patients also presented with respiratory illness due to high levels of RSV and Covid circulating in the community at the time,” the response to a question from Tipperary Independent Councillor Seamus Morris said.
Cllr Morris had asked, on behalf of the Mid West Hospital Campaign, for “an explanation from Shannondoc for the disastrous collapse of the Shannondoc services over Christmas over the apparent lack of staff, why it took days to resolve and why adequate plans were not put in place beforehand.”
The response from Maria Bridgeman, HSE Chief officer for Community Health care in the Mid West area, stated that the Christmas period is always ShannonDoc’s busiest period.
“In preparation for this year, HSE Mid West made an additional allocation of €193,000 available to ShannonDoc to roster additional doctors and nurses to deal with the increase in patient volumes.
“This year, the out of hours service rostered more doctors than previous years with a 30 per cent increase in medical manpower on duty. The additional personnel were secured for the service notwithstanding the well- documented difficulties in recruiting skilled nurses and GPs across all health services.
“This year’s patient surge was unprecedented with patient volumes contacting the service amounting to almost three times more than last year’s levels.
“On one day alone, over 12,500 calls were made to our switchboard. These are incredible numbers which amount to almost one month of calls in just one day.
Over the four days during Christmas (December 24 to 27) ShannonDoc provided 2,280 doctor consultations (up from 1,641 in 2021).
There was a 35 per cent increase on the same period in calls to the Limerick service alone.