The Minister of State at the Department of Health has said it is “strange” that GPs from Moycullen and Oughterard have been refused entry to the Westdoc out-of-hours service and will raise the issue with Health Minister Stephen Donnelly.
However, the local GP service has said that it has already been refused “urgently increased funding” under the Sláinte Care initiative which it needs to grow the service.
Minister Mary Butler has agreed there are “huge challenges” in providing GP and out-of-hours services in this country, particularly in rural areas.
She was responding to issues raised in the Seanad by Galway-based senator Sean Kyne, who has called for Westdoc to be expanded to include Moycullen, Rosscahill and Oughterard and that investment in GP services needs to be increased.
“We do not invest adequately in primary care services in Ireland and a much greater portion of our overall health budget should be invested in primary care. The funding should recognise the unique relationships between GPs and their patients. It should prioritise care in the community and strive for outcomes that avoid ever having to attend crowded emergency departments or acute hospitals.
“Areas such as Corrandulla and Oughterard in Galway, among others, have been left without a service or with a diminished service, forcing local people to travel to attend a GP. And this only relates to weekday GP services, the situation in respect of out-of-hours services is even more troubling. Despite the efforts of GPs serving the Moycullen, Rosscahill and Oughterard communities, among other areas, local GPs are still not included in the Westdoc service.
“The local GPs serving the Moycullen, Rosscahill and Oughterard areas are working flat out to provide a service out of hours and at weekends for their local communities. The HSE is currently, and I must emphasise that this is during a pandemic, providing locum cover on a one-in-five basis but only in the short term with no commitment to maintaining this provision into the future.
“In many areas, over 90% of doctors are covered by out-of-hours services. In the area that I am talking about, the eastern part of Connemara, that coverage is barely over 60%. It is unfair, unsafe and unsound. The local community and GPs deserve better.
“More funding must be provided to Westdoc for its expansion in order that all communities are covered and have the certainty of a comprehensive GP service 24 hours a day, seven days a week,” said Senator Kyne.
He said he had been contacted by GPs who were refused entry to Westdoc.
““I have been contacted by Moycullen and Oughterard GPs, who have been refused entry to Westdoc and have requested intervention. To put this into context, they say that when they are on call, they are on call for 48 hours every fourth weekend and every fourth night, as well as providing full weekday services. As one can imagine, that is a very onerous task for them to undertake, both physically and mentally in terms of their own well-being, but also in relation to that of patients. A more sustainable model needs to be put in place and the funding must be provided for access to the Westdoc service for this local area,” said Senator Kyne.
Minister Butler responded: “I take on board the point made by Senator Kyne that some doctors have applied to join the out-of-hours co-operative, and I will take that back to the Minister. I find it hard to understand why, when there is a shortage of doctors, they are finding it difficult to access a co-operative. It is strange.
“Funding for the service is provided through a service level arrangement with HSE community healthcare organisation, CHO2. In 2020, this organisation received almost €3.9 million in funding through this arrangement. In 2019, in addition to the funding allocated through the service level arrangement, HSE primary care operations allocated an additional sum of €150,000 to CHO2 for the provision of extra staffing for the GP rota in rural areas.
“I understand that CHO2 engaged directly with Westdoc to ensure that this funding was allocated to the area of greatest priority within that service, extending weekend cover in north Connemara, south Connemara and Achill.
“It is acknowledged that the Westdoc service does not extend to certain rural areas within the region, and that additional funding would be required to extend the service that is currently being provided. I understand that this places additional pressures on GPs in the area,” said Minister Butler.
Senator Kyne said he will push it at local level to try and secure additional funding for Westdoc and get admission to the doctors serving the Moycullen, Rosscahill and Oughterard areas.
In response to queries from the Connacht Tribune, Brian O’Keeffe, Chief Executive of Westdoc issued the following statement: “Westdoc provides Urgent Out Of Hours GP Care to one of the largest geographic areas in the Country, namely Galway Mayo and Roscommon. Westdoc strives at all time to increase membership and service across the three counties.
“Westdoc cannot expand any further without increased funding and to this end met with Minister Simon Harris last year to brief him on the situation in the West of Ireland and how urgently increased funding was required. He accepted our concerns and suggested we apply for such funding from a newly-launched Sláinte Care initiative. This we did but sadly were unsuccessful in our application. Westdoc will continue to pursue additional funding required, working very closely with the HSE.”
‘Give even one big GAA game to Ballinasloe’
It’s the most centrally located ground in the country but Ballinasloe’s Duggan Park won’t host a single inter-county match this year – much to the annoyance of one local councillor who wants the GAA to allocate at least one big game to the venue.
Cllr Michael Connolly told a meeting of Ballinasloe Municipal Council that the ground is entitled to host major football and hurling fixtures – even though all but one of the Galway footballers’ home league games are assigned to Pearse Stadium with the other one in Tuam.
“If they gave us one match in Duggan Park, it would be something,” he said. “But at the moment, it seems as if it is being ignored.”
The Moylough councillor described it as the most accessible ground in the country and a venue in which players and supporters like to travel to – unlike, he suggested, Pearse Stadium.
He said that it was “a hateful venue” and few GAA supporters relished the prospect of travelling to the “far side of the city” to watch a football or hurling match.
A recent meeting in Gullane’s Hotel to discuss Duggan Park was attended by Deputy Denis Naughton, Senator Aisling Dolan, Cllr Evelyn Parsons and Cllr Declan Kelly among others.
But the Duggan Park Committee then issued a statement saying that the ground is owned by Galway GAA and any use of the facility needed to be authorised – and no authorisation was given to the meeting organiser, former Mayor of Ballinasloe Joe Kelly, for this purpose.
Mr Kelly has been a staunch campaigner for the redevelopment of Duggan Park and has called on the local authority to row in behind this initiative.
They went on to say that there is a plan in place for the development of Duggan Park which is multiple staged which started with the new dressing rooms, flood lights and a new entrance to the venue.
Planning permission is in place for this development and that €500,000 has already been spent in the Duggan Park over the past number of years carrying out these projects.
The work in the ground, they say, is done to an excellent standard by local contractors with the support of the previous Town Council for grants and sports capital grants.
Former tourism magnet officially on register of derelict sites
The fire-ravaged hotel that was once one of the most popular in the county is now officially considered a derelict site – and that has led a local councillor to call for it to be either redeveloped or levelled.
Portumna’s Shannon Oaks Hotel, for so long popular with anglers and golfers in particular, has been boarded up for more than a decade since it was destroyed by fire.
Local councillor, Jimmy McClearn, has called on the owners to reopen or sell the property – adding that it should either be levelled or redeveloped.
“We are a tourist town and we need a hotel. The last thing we want is for a hotel to be shut up,” he said.
“It is a fine facility and on an extensive site so there is no reason why it should be boarded up,” he added.
The Shannon Oaks saga has gone on for the past twelve years – but now the owners, the multi-millionaire Comer brothers, will be forced to pay a derelict site levy if they do not reopen or redevelop.
That amounts to a seven per cent levy based on the market value of the property, which is worth around €1 million even in its derelict state.
The Shannon Oaks was ravaged by fire in September 2011 and four years later, the site was acquired by the Comer Group who, at the time, gave an undertaking that it would be reopened.
Around two years ago, planning permission was granted by Galway County Council to Barry Comer of the Comer Group to renovate the hotel by providing 60 new bedrooms along with 40 apartments to the rear of the structure.
However, there has been little or no movement on the site since then and now the owners are being again asked to give some indication as to when the hotel will be rebuilt.
It is considered an integral part of the tourism industry for the town and that is why pressure is mounting on the owners to rebuild the hotel.
Cllr McClearn said that all he is asking for is the owners to develop the site and provide a hotel there. “It’s not much to ask in a tourist town,” he added.
More than €200,000 worth of cannabis seized in East Galway
More than €200,000 worth of cannabis was seized in during two separate search operations in East Galway on Saturday.
Gardai from the Divisional Drugs Unit conducted a search at a residence in Aughrim and seized cannabis plants with an estimated street value of €146,000 and €20,000 worth of cannabis herb which will now be sent for analysis.
Two men (both in their 30s) were arrested at the scene in connection with the investigation and are currently detained at Galway Garda station under Section 2 of the Criminal Justice (Drug Trafficking) Act, 1996. Both men remain in custody.
A separate search was carried out at a residence in Ballinasloe yesterday afternoon and cannabis herb with an estimated street value of €35,000 was seized. Cannabis jellies and €7,510 in cash were also seized.
A man in his 40s was arrested and later released without charge and a file will be prepared for the Director of Public Prosecutions.