‘FOOLISH MISUSE OF PUBLIC FUNDS’ Dr Jerry Cowley.
MULRANNY-based GP Jerry Cowley has described the amount of money spent on locum GP cover in Achill as ‘flabbergasting’.
A doctor’s position in Achill Sound has been vacant since January 17, 2021, leaving the island with just one full-time GP, who is based in Achill Sound and Pollagh, and one locum doctor providing cover, based in Pollagh.
The parish of Achill, which has a population of around 2,500 during the winter months, was once served by six GPs. It had four practitioners as recently as 2020.
The Mayo News has learned that the cost of providing cover for the vacant GP position in Achill Sound has risen to €355,000.
In a response to query from this newspaper, HSE Community Healthcare West confirmed that the position had not received any applications since being first advertised in 2021, and then re-advertised on April 1, 2022.
Dr Cowley, who is a member of the Rural, Island and Dispensing Doctors of Ireland organisation, said that in paying for locum cover, the HSE was spending ‘many multiples’ of what it would cost to provide a full-time general practitioner at the surgery.
The Mayo News revealed back in April that the HSE had spent a total of €260,000 on locum cover for the vacant position up to February 28 of this year.
Since then, an further €95,000 has been spent on locum cover, bringing the total spend to €355,000.
Dr Cowley is calling for the reinstatement of supports for rural GPs, which were abolished as part of spending cuts during the last recession. These supports include the distance code system, which allocated extra resources to GPs depending on how far away their patients lived.
The former TD said that the vacant practice in Achill Sound should have at least two doctors, so that GPs can take leave for holidays and family bereavements.
“It is foolish misuse of public funds,” Dr Cowley told The Mayo News yesterday (Monday). “In an area like Achill, where there is a scarcity of doctors, that means if [a doctor works in] a place like Achill they will not be able to get away for a holiday, because there’s such a scarcity of locums, because nobody wants to come to work in a rural area.
“There have been incidents where rural doctors haven’t been able to get to family bereavements because they haven’t been able to leave their practices… and that is the reason is you cannot get anyone to work in a rural area anymore.”
Dr Cowley branded the sum spent on locum GP cover as ‘pure stupidity’ by the Government. He said the solution to attracting a new doctor is obvious: “All they have to do is get reasonable work conditions like they did before, and everything will be fine. It’s as simple as that.”
Speaking to The Mayo News, Sinn Féin TD Rose Conway-Walsh said more resources needed to be allocated towards educating and training doctors to work in the Irish health service.
“What is needed is to have proper allowances in place to have recognition that many of these GPs have to cover an ageing population and have to cover a very wide geographical area, so those incentives need to be there,” she said.
Local representative Cllr Paul McNamara has also called for the vacant position to be filled as a matter of urgency.