Fury in Birr as Midoc shuts without warning

Thursday, 12 April 2018

OUTRAGE and shock rippled through the community of Birr and its hinterland after the unexpected closure of the local Midoc service over the weekend.
News broke of the Health Service Executive's decision to close the Birr Midoc service after people attempting to access the out-of-hours GP service in the town were advised to instead attend the Midoc clinic in Tullamore. The intention is now to operate one fully functioning treatment centre in Tullamore on the campus of the Midlands Regional Hospital, Tullamore for the entire Offaly population, according to the HSE.
A public meeting has been called for this Wednesday night, April 11, in Dooly's Hotel, Birr at 8.30pm to discuss the issue.
Speaking to the Tribune this week, Cllr Peter Ormond said he was inundated with calls over the weekend that the out of hours GP service in Birr was closed and the nearest alternative clinic was in Tullamore. "I was utterly shocked to say the least," the Shinrone councillor said.
According to Cllr Ormond, an initial message from a constituent, who had needed to go to Midoc in Birr but couldn't because it was shut, alerted him to the situation. "This was the first they had heard of it and at 10.40pm on Saturday night last was the first time I had heard about it," he added.
The Fianna Fail councillor also criticised the lack of communication from the Health Service Executive (HSE) on the matter. "Certainly, communication wasn't to the forefront on this matter," the Shinrone councillor continued.
Cllr Ormond voiced serious concerns about the impact of the situation on the local community. "We hope this will be a temporary situation as we need to get the service back up and running. If you take it, this Birr based service serves out into Shinrone, right across to Lorrha. In terms of the travel and the time, it will take to get to people, people are probably now going to go straight to the A&E instead of going to the GP. This will clog up the system rather then help it."
According to a statement issued to the Tribune by the HSE, an independent review of the Midoc services was undertaken in 2017, which "identified concerns in the areas of clinical risk, medical emergencies and lone worker. These concerns relate specifically to locum doctors on duty working with no clinical support, the ability to manage independently when presented with a medical emergency and the personal safety of the doctor while working alone in Birr and Edenderry."
According to the HSE, the participating GPs in conjunction with the GPs therefore took the decision to close the two satellite part-time cells in Birr and Edenderry with effect from Monday, April 2 last. "These changes were already piloted over the Christmas period and on several weekends and have worked well," the statement read.
It continued: "When the services in Birr and Edenderry merge into Tullamore, to enhance the current service provision in Tullamore and to take into account the additional patients travelling from Birr and Edenderry, an additional doctor will be on duty in Tullamore, during weekends and public holidays, from 12midday to 8pm. This will facilitate the more effective management of call outs and home visits to the entire county, including Birr and Edenderry."
"A review of the current monthly activity levels indicates that Tullamore will be more than capable of absorbing the patients from Birr and Edenderry centres and will in fact bring it in line with Longford, Mullingar and Portlaoise centres. Additional administration support will also be provided by the Offaly cell to free up doctor's time, resulting in more patient contact, and a more-effective out-of-hours service for all.
However, with public outrage mounting, a public meeting will take place tonight (Wednesday, April 11) at 8.30pm in Dooly's Hotel, organised by the councillors of the Birr Municipal District after they hotly debated the issue at length on Monday night last. Several members of the public also contacted the Tribune to voice their utter shock and outrage at the sudden closure of this vital service in Birr.
One lady wrote she thought it was a "disgrace" that the Midoc in Birr was closed. "It gave a huge sense of security for people knowing if anything ever happened they could go to the Midoc and if needed them be referred to A&E. Coming from a family with young children, this is a necessity in the town of Birr. It's more important for children to get seen to rather than adults, depending on the issue. However now, it's forcing parents to drive their sick child to Tullamore, to then be told to go to Ballinasloe because they don't have the time, patience or care to even check the poor child."
Another woman voiced similar concerns on the service closure. "Not everyone has a car and when you have an emergency trying to get to Tullamore would be difficult and expensive if you need a taxi. I have no family I could reply on if I needed to get to Tullamore so a taxi would be my only option. It's unfair that because we are rural, we get left out of anything to do with budget cuts. The local GP can now make us wait for a week for an appointment so where as we could reply upon Midoc. Now we can't."
Meanwhile, local TD Carol Nolan was outraged by the unexpected closure of the Midoc service in Birr. She said she herself had been contacted by many concerned constituents, who were furious over this "senseless decision to close such a vital and basic service in the town. The Midoc service in Birr has experienced cuts to its hours of operation over the last few years and its closure is unacceptable and won't be tolerated.
"I find it appalling to say the least that there was no communication with the general public or myself as the local TD. The decision to end the Midoc service must be reversed as its closure poses risks to the safety of patients, young and old and doesn't take into consideration that many people in Birr and the surrounding areas don't have transport to get to Tullamore to avail of medical attention.
"The plan to have one operational treatment centre in Tullamore for the entire population of Offaly is ludicrous, unworkable and will put the lives of people seeking medical treatment in danger. I will be raising this issue directly with the Minister for Health and will be calling on him to intervene with HSE to have the Midoc service reinstated immediately in Birr."
With the service also closing in Edenderry, Barry Cowen, TD demanded a meeting with HSE management to discuss the service reduction. "I will also be raising the issue directly with Minister for Health Simon Harris. If additional funding is needed to help Midoc respond to growing demand then this should be considered."
Speaking about the "shock statement" from the HSE regarding the closures, Deputy Cowen said it was "now worrying" the entire county was now set to be covered by just one clinic, based in Tullamore. "The HSE have said additional resources will be put in place to cater for GP house calls. However, house calls are not routinely carried out by GPs. Patients are requested to attend a clinic unless they are suffering from a serious ailment. I'm seriously concerned that patients who would ordinarily have had to attend the Birr or Edenderry clinic will now be forced to travel to Tullamore to access a GP outside of normal surgery hours.
“Similar cutbacks to those being imposed on Midoc have occurred elsewhere in recent years, such as those implemented in Shannondoc. In those cases, the cutbacks led to a permanent reduction in the GP service available to patients. The Government should be focusing on growing primary care services instead of cutting back on them. Countless reports have shown the key to solving the hospital overcrowding crisis is to invest in GP services. Yet here we are in 2018, with the HSE proposing to cut back on GP services."
Marcella Corcoran Kennedy, TD also called for an urgent meeting with the HSE to explain why the service closed in both Birr and Edenderry without notice. "This decision has been made without any notice to the public or local public representatives and has come as a shock to the people in the south and north Offaly areas, who have tried to access the service in recent days.
"It's vitally important the HSE explains its position here. I am perplexed by the decision, which was taken by the HSE with any consultation or advance notice to the general public or public representatives. I and my office have been inundated with people from the Birr area and Edenderry who have tried in recent days to avail of the service, only to be told that they would have to travel to Tullamore.
"People do not engage with the GP Out of Hours Service unless it is absolutely necessary and the additional burden and barrier of having to travel significant distances to access this crucial primary healthcare services is unacceptable. I am calling for an urgent meeting with local HSE management to convey the genuine worry and concerns of people in North and South Offaly. The Government has increased health expenditure substantially in recent budgets and I am determined to get clarification from the HSE as soon as possible."
According to angry RENUA Ireland leader and local councillor, John Leahy, the closure of the Birr and Edenderry Midoc services was "another example of how this government and the HSE appear hell-bent on making the lives of working people impossible".
"The HSE and Simon Harris are gambling with the lives of children and the elderly to save money that will only be spent on more bureaucrats. Midoc is an essential service for parents of young children in particular and for the elderly. Now, both are being told to go to hell or to Tullamore.
"The closure of these critical services is another example of bureaucratic heartlessness. People do not get sick on a 9 to 5 basis Monday to Friday." He continued: "Now, thanks to a mixture of stupidity and cruelty the parents of a child with a fever will have to make critical medical decisions. The invisible bureaucrats of the HSE should reverse a heartless gutless decision which will cost more money than it saves and create more problems than it resolves. It is past time they also recognize that people from more areas than Tullamore are entitled to basic medical services. This is a cruel Scrooge like decision which reveals just how divorced from ordinary people's lives the HSE are."
Tipperary County Councillor Michael O'Meara pointed out the decision to close the satellite out-of-hours GP service in Birr would also affect a lot people out in his area, which is in the hinterland of Birr. "I have been inundated with calls from people, who are very upset that they would have to travel onto Tullamore now," he said and called for the service to be re-instated as soon as possible in Birr.


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