HSE reviewing proposed NowDoc charges

The Health Service Executive has confirmed that it is reviewing a proposal that would see overnight NowDoc services in Derrybeg and Carndonagh provided centrally at Letterkenny and include the use of a GP mobile unit.

The Health Service Executive has confirmed that it is reviewing a proposal that would see overnight NowDoc services in Derrybeg and Carndonagh provided centrally at Letterkenny and include the use of a GP mobile unit.

Charlie McConalogue, Fianna Fáil TD for Donegal North-East, who received the confirmation this week, said he believes the proposal is “totally unacceptable”.

Pearse Doherty and Pádraig MacLochlainn, Sinn Féin TDs, have also slammed the plan, saying in a joint statement released yesterday, “We are not going to be convinced that the people of rural Donegal can have their out-of-hours emergency GP service adequately delivered from Letterkenny only.”

Deputy McConalogue has called on the HSE and GPs to negotiate an arrangement that would maintain NowDoc services in their current format.

NowDoc GPs submitted proposals to the HSE in December 2011 in relation to medical cover for what are known as “red-eye” periods, periods of low activity from 11pm until 8am. Changes the GPs proposed would reduce “red-eye” shift cover at Carndonagh and Derrybeg, and provide that cover centrally at Letterkenny, including the use of a mobile GP unit.

There are no changes proposed to the delivery of NowDoc service in Mountcharles, the HSE confirmed.

The HSE has appointed a review group consisting of Dr. Dermot Hegarty, managing director of NowDoc; Rosemary Hannigan, risk manager, primary, continuing and community care; and previous NowDoc manager, Colin McCann, to evaluate the proposal in terms of safety, quality and risk. An HSE spokesperson said the review will also take into account activity during 2011 and consider new proposals in relation to response times.

The review group is expected to complete their evaluation at the end of this month and a response on the proposal will then be issued to the board of directors of NowDoc. In the meantime, there will be no change to existing GP arrangements, the HSE confirmed.

NowDoc was established about 10 years ago in a cooperative structure between GPs and the HSE to provide urgent, out-of-hours medical care in Donegal, south Leitrim and north Roscommon. The HSE provided the infrastructure for the service – including drivers, receptionists and nursing staff – and GPs provided the cover for the doctor rotas. The HSE had provided funding to doctors for hiring a locum for the midnight to 8 am shift, but that support was removed about 18 months ago.

Deputy McConalogue said he believed people took it “as an absolute requirement that in the event that they take sick and need a doctor in the night hours that a GP will be on call a relatively reasonable distance from their home”. However, he said he believed that the proposal to provide the cover centrally could result in GPs being “unacceptably long distances” from a patient.

“The HSE and GPs need to put their heads together and negotiate an arrangement that would see the continuation of the existing level of service,” Deputy McConalogue said.