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8 June 2006 Edition

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Harmonising patient care in border areas

Barry McElduff

Barry McElduff

BY BARRY McELDUFF

The huge disadvantage suffered by people living in border areas is nowhere more apparent than in Lifford, County Donegal if you happen to need a doctor in the evenings or at weekends.

As things currently stand, the sick patient has to travel to NowDoc in Letterkenny which is 16 miles away when there is a major GP Out of Hours Centre literally one mile away, over the bridge, in Strabane, County Tyrone. My colleague, Councillor Tony McDaid highlighted this absurdity at a recent meeting convened by Sinn Féin aimed at forcing the hand of the two Health Departments in Ireland, to move once and for all on the removal of obstacles which are put in the way of patients in border areas.

Councillor McDaid highlighted in the same breath the wisdom of the Fire Service based in Strabane already serving rural parts of east Donegal. Logic if ever there was logic.

Meanwhile, last month, it was further revealed that Doctors futive), with Christine Jendoubi, Director of Primary Care DHSSPS and Edel O'Doherty, Project Manger, Cross Border GP Out of Hours Project, Sinn Féin demanded real movement on this issue. We demanded a timetable for its implementation and we reminded them that a feasibility study was conducted in 2001 to identify issues that need to be addressed in order to introduce Cross Border co-operation in the area of GP Out of Hours services.

In response, at the Hillgrove Hotel meeting on 12 May, both Health Departments restated their commitments to move this project on, pledging to kick-start with Pilot Projects in the Castleblayney/Keady area and the Derry/Inishowen area within six months. For our part, we have undertaken to convene a recall meeting at the end of this six-month period to monitor progress.

It is planned that the two pilot projects will benefit approximately 13,000 residents in each pilot area. The project is to be rolled out in two phases. rom Poland are flying into Couny Down and County Armagh towns at weekends to provide Out of Hours GP cover. Welcome as these Polish doctors are, the fact that doctors based in Castleblayney cannot yet attend to patients in Keady and Crossmaglen is all the more stark and unacceptable.

It is my firm contention that the seamless provision of essential health services in the border area is the acid test of all acid tests in relation to all Ireland harmonisation or 'cross border co-operation' as promised in the Good Friday Agreement. If patients in Lifford continue to be obstructed because of 'protocols' from accessing their closest GP, then these promises of greater cooperation and integration are not worth the paper they are working on.

Sinn Féin has identified this issue as one that simply must be resolved in the short term. Our Party's national Health Policy Document Health Care in an Ireland of Equals' recently launched by Caoimhghín Ó C The first phase will enable people from the Inishowen area of Donegal to access Western Urgent Care in Derry. The second phase will provide people from the Keady area of Armagh with an opportunity to avail of the GP Out of Hours Service, NEDOC in Castleblayney. These pilots, we are told, will then be evaluated so that the service can be widened out thereafter in the border region.

Project Manager for the Steering Group managing the pilot GP Out of Hours Service, Edel O'Doherty is keen to see 'the overcoming of the obstacles' which are a range of technical and financial issues to do with doctor registration and indemnity.

Sinn Féin is calling on both Health Departments, in the small country where there should only be one, to overcome these obstacles without further delay. As it stands, over seventy thousand people live close to GP Centres which they are not allowed to attend because of Britain's border in Ireland. Like everything else, an all Iraoláin TD, focuses on the need for an All Ireland Health Service which will harmonise and maximise the use of resources. It also emphasises the primacy of Primary Care over Hospital Care.

On Friday, 12 May at a specially convened meeting with both Health Departments, Caoimhghín helped to put the case for the immediate establishment of a pilot project relating to the Castleblayney / Keady /Crossmaglen area. Together with John O'Dowd MLA, Cllr Tony McDaid and myself, Caoimhghín demanded that action and not words are needed to ensure that people in border areas are treated equally. Everyone knows that borders impact negatively on the social life and economic opportunities of people who live in those areas. Everyone knows that health and social deprivation is greatest in those rural areas close to the border.

When meeting with Fergal Goodman, Principal Officer with the Department of Health and Children and Tadhg O'Brien, (Health Service Execeland approach is the patient's solution.

utive), with Christine Jendoubi, Director of Primary Care DHSSPS and Edel O'Doherty, Project Manger, Cross Border GP Out of Hours Project, Sinn Féin demanded real movement on this issue. We demanded a timetable for its implementation and we reminded them that a feasibility study was conducted in 2001 to identify issues that need to be addressed in order to introduce Cross Border co-operation in the area of GP Out of Hours services.

In response, at the Hillgrove Hotel meeting on 12 May, both Health Departments restated their commitments to move this project on, pledging to kick-start with Pilot Projects in the Castleblayney/Keady area and the Derry/Inishowen area within six months. For our part, we have undertaken to convene a recall meeting at the end of this six-month period to monitor progress.

It is planned that the two pilot projects will benefit approximately 13,000 residents in each pilot area. The project is to be rolled out in two phases.

An Phoblacht Magazine

AN PHOBLACHT MAGAZINE:

  • The first edition of this new magazine will feature a 10 page special on the life and legacy of our leader Martin McGuinness to mark the first anniversary of his untimely passing.
  • It will include a personal reminiscence by Gerry Adams and contributions from the McGuinness family.
  • There will also be an exclusive interview with our new Uachtarán Mary Lou McDonald.

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