Donegal politicians have welcomed this week’s confirmation that the Health Service Executive (HSE) has rejected GPs’ proposal to centralise overnight NowDoc services in Derrybeg and Carndonagh into Letterkenny.
The politicians and the Impact trade union said they will continue to monitor the situation, to ensure there is no reduction in the out-of-hours GP service.
“It’s good news for all the people in west Donegal and Inishowen that were at risk of losing this vital service, and I think it’s a victory for common sense and patient safety,” said Thomas Pringle, independent TD for Donegal South West.
Pearse Doherty, Sinn Féin TD for Donegal South West, said he was delighted to receive the HSE confirmation on Thursday. “It was a fight that never should have had to happen,” he said.
NowDoc GPs submitted proposals to the HSE in December of 2011 in relation to medical cover for what are known as “red-eye” periods, periods of low activity from 11pm until 8am. The changes the GPs proposed would have reduced red-eye shift cover at Carndonagh and Derrybeg, and provide that cover centrally at Letterkenny, including the use of a mobile GP unit.
The HSE appointed a review group -- 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, taking into account 2011 activity and response times.
The HSE issued a statement on Friday that said, “Having considered the report of the review team, the HSE have written to the general practitioners in NowDoc advising that the HSE is not in a position to support the restructuring of the service as proposed.
“The HSE will continue to work with the GPs in NowDoc to ensure that a safe and quality out of hours GP service continues to be provided in Donegal,” according to the statement.
In a joint statement, Deputy Doherty and his party colleague, Pádraig MacLochlainn, Donegal North East TD, credited a public campaign against the proposal with having an impact on the HSE decision.
“A citizens’ initiative in west Donegal gathered thousands of signatures from the community which, combined with pressure from trade unions and public representatives, we feel was instrumental in the decision made by the HSE,” the deputies’ statement said.
Deputies Doherty and MacLochlainn had met a couple of times with HSE officials to discuss the issue. Deputy Doherty said they had warned the HSE, “this is not a problem they want to invite on themselves”.
“To restrict this service overnight, when patients most need it, would have put patients in remote areas at risk and had a ripple effect right throughout the health services in Donegal,” Fianna Fáil Sen. Brian Ó Domhnaill said, adding that he hoped the HSE decision “means the end of any discussion to cut such a crucial element of our health services in Donegal”.
“It is heartening to see that the authorities have listened on this occasion to the concerns of the patients and communities who would be most affected by the proposed cuts,” said Charlie McConalogue, Fianna Fáil TD for Donegal North East.
Richy Carrothers, Impact north-west assistant general secretary, welcomed the decision but pointed out that the HSE was in the process of compulsory redeploying 16 receptionist staff in the centres at Derrybeg, Carndonagh, Mountcharles and Carrick on Shannon. Dep. Pringle has also called on the HSE not to proceed with the redeployment and Deputy Doherty has called it, “an issue of major concern”.
Mr. Carrothers said, “This is indeed a reprieve and I welcome this decision from the HSE, but we must remain vigilant and service-reducing changes to NowDoc will be resisted.”