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Achill GP crisis worsens with doctor’s retirement


RETIRINGDr Edward King

Anton McNulty

THE retirement of an Achill-based general practitioner at the end of the year will leave the parish with just one permanent GP in 2021 having started 2020 with four.
Letters from the Health Service Executive were sent out to patients of Achill GP, Dr Edward King confirming that he will be retiring from his position on December 31, and that Dr Bernadette O’Leary will be the sole remaining GP to cover the vast parish.
The retirement of Dr King will leave the Achill community facing a GP crisis with the HSE confirming that they have been unable to fill the vacant GP position, despite advertising for the post on two occasions in the last six months.
There was four GPs practising on Achill at the start of the year but within six months it was reduced in half. Dr Fergil Coulihan took over a GP practice in Co Galway in April and in June, Dr Noreen Lineen-Curtis resigned from her position in Achill but still provides services on Clare Island and Inishbiggle.
Dr King had initially been due to retire in June but agreed to continue to provide cover in a temporary capacity. It had been hoped that a replacement GP would be found in the intervening months but the HSE stated that this was so far unsuccessful and the position will be re-advertised in next month.
In the meantime, a locum GP has been recruited who will provide cover on a short-term basis and is due to arrive in Achill in the New Year.
The HSE stated that GPs are permitted to have 2,200 patients on their panel under the terms of the Medical Card scheme and at present there are 1,700 eligible patients in Achill Island.
There are currently two surgeries in Achill, one located in Achill Sound and the other in Pollagh. The HSE confirmed that Dr O’Leary will be primarily attending the Achill Sound surgery and will only be attending the Pollagh surgery once a week on Wednesdays.
Achill-based councillor Paul McNamara said it was worrying that Achill will be going into 2021 with only one permanent GP alongside a locum doctor to cater for a predominately elderly population.
“Achill now finds itself in unchartered waters having started the year with four GPs and we now go into the new year with one GP. It is very worrying for the people of Achill particularly in these times of Covid-19 to have only one permanent GP to cater for a predominately elderly population,” he told The Mayo News.
Cllr McNamara said it was disappointing that the HSE have not been able to fill the current GP vacancy and urged them to continue to advertise the post until a permanent position is filled as having a locum was not the long-term answer.
“I welcome the confirmation that a locum doctor will be arriving in Achill and this is a step in the right direction. However, people have been used to dealing with their doctor for a long number of years.
While the locum will fill the void we don’t want the situation where there is a constant turnover of locum doctors … that won’t be the answer to the problems we are facing into,” he added.
The retirement of Dr King will bring an end of close to 80 years of medical service to the Achill community by the King family. The practice in Pollagh was founded by Dr King’s father, also called Edward, a native of Westport, when he arrived in Achill in the 1940s. His son took over the practice in the 1980s following the death of his father at the age of 63 in 1982.
Paying tribute to Dr King on his retirement, Cllr McNamara thanked him for the years of service both he and his father gave the community.
“Dr King and his father before him served the parish of Achill and their patients in a dedicated and professional manner for many years and I must acknowledged all he has done for the community and wish him well in his retirement. The King and Lineen families gave a lifetime of service to the Achill people and not have a Dr King or a Dr Lineen in the parish marks the end of an era,” he said.