Cuts to NEDOC service due to funding issues

The HSE has been criticised for insufficient funding of the service.

The local out of hours GP service is to reduce services due to a shortage of Doctors.

NEDOC says from 10.30pm on weekdays and 10pm at weekends, only telephone consultations with a GP will be available. No home visits or in person appointments will be carried out.

In a statement, the organisation says “acute doctor shortages and underfunding of the service by the HSE” are to blame for the changes.

“The HSE has been notified of issues facing NEDOC for overnight sessions for some years and while some financial supports were forthcoming they were insufficient to cover the costs incurred in sourcing doctors to work these overnight shifts”, the statement reads.

NEDOC, which has been operating across the north east for

Operating out of bases in Cavan, Castleblayney, Drogheda and Navan, it is staffed by GPs who work evenings and weekends, as well as manning their own surgeries.

The Chair of NEDOC, Dr Seamus McMenamin has hit out at the situation, claiming the service is being treated as a “stop-gap”:

“NEDOC was established as an urgent out of hours GP service, however with time the service has become a convenient alternative to day surgery while also being the stop-gap for other health services that choose not to arrange out of hours cover but allow their patients to default to NEDOC…”

He cites public health, social care, mental health, dental care and palliative care as those health services.

Operations Manager Arlene Fitzsimons says a shortage of available GPs to work in the service has meant locums doctors have had to be hired to ensure adequate staffing but this is proving a challenge now:

“Now the medical manpower market is so competitive that it is increasingly difficult to source doctors under the terms and conditions we can offer. In order to attract doctors to Ireland or retrain the doctors that have already trained in Ireland, we need to be able to offer better terms and conditions and to do that we need HSE support which is not forthcoming.”

The changes mean urgent appointments in NEDOC centres will be available from 6.30pm to 10.30pm Monday to Friday and from 8am to 10pm at weekends. After those times, patients will be triaged by a nurse and referred, if needed, to a GP for a phone consultation.

Dr McMenamin added that daytime GP services are “overwhelmed” with some doctors working 12-hour days to meet demand.

2019 saw a high point in the number of people contacting NEDOC, with 90,000 calls dealt with. The number so far this year has already surpassed that of 2019.

A&E Closure

It’s understood the HSE’s plans to close the A&E at Our Lady’s Hospital in Navan and replace it with a medical assessment unit is also of concern for NEDOC.

Dr McMenamin says the assessment unit as set out would only be accessible to patients with a GP referral.

“The NEDOC service is an urgent out of hours GP service for patients whose care cannot wait until their own GP surgery opens the following day. The service is not there for the purpose of issuing referral letters to the acute medical assessment unit.”