A petition with over 2,500 signatures calling for the restoration of the Midoc service to Birr has been delivered to Minister for Health Simon Harris by a local election candidate in the Birr Municipal District.
Banagher native, Clare Claffey, who will represent the Social Democrats in the May local elections, has been calling on the Health Services Executive to restore the Midoc out of hours GP Service to Birr since she started the online petition on the Uplift website in February.
Paper copies of the petition in businesses throughout Banagher and Birr have gathered hundreds of signatures in the past few weeks. Claffey said: “This is the single biggest issue I have been hearing about since I began canvassing last year. Local people felt they had been abandoned by their elected representatives and the response to the petition has shown how much local support there is for action.”
Claffey continued: “We discussed the issue with Catherine Murphy TD, co-leader of the Social Democrats and we were delighted when Catherine arranged for us to visit Leinster House last week, to hand-deliver the petition to the Minister for Health.”
“When we met with Minister Harris, he said that he was familiar with the Midoc issue, having read about our campaign on social media. He suggested the issue was down to GPs, as has also been reported by the HSE. I was happy to be able to correct him on this. As we have stated since the start of this campaign, there is no criticism of local GPs in this petition.”
“It is well known that there are insufficient GPs working in the Birr area to service the local population, and that this had a knock-on effect on the out of hours service. This is all down to funding though – if GPs were adequately funded, they would not be leaving the profession and the country in droves. I hope that the negotiations on the GP contract recently announced will be an opportunity for the Government to ensure that rural towns and villages are able to recruit and retain enough GPs to provide a decent service for rural people.”
The Irish Medical Organisation has stated that the retention and recruitment of doctors in General Practice is directly related to the cuts in the GP contract during the recession. A 38% reduction in funding has meant that with older GPs retiring, many younger GPs do not see a viable future in Ireland.
The Social Democrats spear-headed the Slaintecare programme, which put a great focus on investment in prevention, primary care and local services. The programme would involve a strong commitment to the primary healthcare system, and recruitment of thousands more doctors, nurses, speech therapists, and public health nurses throughout the health system. Though approved by all parties, Sláintecare has been slow to get off the ground and Claffey said the Government has been paying lip-service to a commitment to primary care.
Claffey stated: “I am calling on the Government to invest in primary care and restore this vital service to Birr. The most vulnerable people of West and South Offaly are already greatly disadvantaged by a lack of transport and other infrastructure, and they need this medical service returned to them.”
Concluding, Claffey said he told Minister Harris the people, who have signed this petition expect action from him and she wouldn't t rest until it is addressed.”
A second local election candidate, Monica Barnwell, who is running for RENUA, wrote the closure of Midoc services in Birr was “an absolute disgrace” in a town with almost 6,000 people and the many thousands around it. “It was a decision made due to cuts in funding, althought this was not the reason that was published. As I see it, there's only one way we can hope to get our service back and that's to protest in large numbers outside the HSE. I want to see all six Birr Ferbane councillors back their community on this and help to organise and support this protest to demande our service back. Protest works. It has worked before. The people of our community need to rally together and get behind this and let the HSE know we wouldn't take this lying down.”
Meanwhile, calls were made by Offaly TD, Barry Cowen for revised GP contracts to provide for the re-establishment of the Midoc services.
Deputy Cowen said the revised GP contract, announced recently by the Government, must take into account the services which were previously lost. Deputy Cowen was commenting following the announcement from the Government that there will be a €210m investment in General Practice.
The local TD explained: “Minister Harris and Taoiseach Varadkar made many promises recently in regards to General Practice. They have pledged to increase rural allowance, provide a fund for areas of deprivation, expand maternity and paternity supports and hire more practice nurses among other proposals. What they should have promised was to restore the Midoc services to Birr and Edenderry and other areas where GP services were downgraded.
“At the time of the closures I called for HSE management to work with Midoc to ensure these clinics remained open. If additional funding could have been made available to help Midoc maintain their existing services then that should have been explored. Now we know new funding is available and I believe it needs to be looked at again. The focus should be on growing primary care services instead of cutting back on them. All week I have been hearing Fine Gael colleagues lauding the revised contract, yet they should be insisting that services like midoc are restored.”
Continuing, Deputy Cowen said there has been “significant frustration and anger amongst family doctors at their treatment by government, anger we believe to be genuine and warranted. They have waited a very long time for this revised contract, and let there be no doubt about it, it is a revised contract, not a new one. The downgrading of services was totally unacceptable and the situation now is that many people cannot get on to GP lists or else wait a week or more for an appointment. This new funding for General Practice must take into account the areas which went without before,” concluded Deputy Cowen.