5 October 2006 Edition
Progress made on border GP After Hours scheme
BY Aran Foley
A Sinn Féin delegation including the party's all-Ireland spokeperson Barry McElduff MLA and health spokesperson John O'Dowd has pressed the British government on all-Ireland co-operation in the area of of healthcare. The meeting with direct rule Health Minister Paul Goggins was held at Stormont Castle on 3 October.
The Sinn Féin representatives told Goggins that the ending of the protocol in December 2005 between Altngelvin and Sligo hospitals by which patients could be treated at either, depending on which was full and which was not, was a disgrace and flew in the face of the Good Friday Agreement. It had caused much hardship for people living in border areas. Despite confirmation from the Western Health Board in the Six Counties that the arrangement had indeed ended, Goggins said he had not been aware of the development and would look into the matter.
After hours scheme
The Sinn Féin delegation also demanded the immediate roll out of the proposed GP After Hours scheme. This scheme, which will initially apply to the Keady/Castleblaney and Derry/Inishowen areas, will allow people living in these border areas after hours access to the GP of their choice regardless of what side of the border they are on. A deadline of November for the former and January 2007 for the latter was conceded.
Sinn Féin also called for the immediate introduction of a spatial strategy by both Governments that would ensure the maximum distribution and effectiveness of resources. Specifically this spatial strategy must ignore the existence of the border to avoid building back-to-back and thus wasting already scant resources. The example of the proposed hospital in the North Eastern region of the south was cited and it was noted that no discussions had taken place between the two Governments on this matter. Goggins told the MLA's that he proposed to meet southern Health Minister Mary Harney in November to discuss spatial strategy.
It was noted that the last meeting of the British Irish Governmental Conference had produced a coherent strategy for economic co operation and the MLA's demanded that the next meeting of the body should do the same for healthcare.
The final matter raised was the issue of funding for the cross community group Co operation and Working Together. At the moment it is dependant solely on European funding. Sinn Féin has called on both governments to supply guaranteed and sustained funding for the organisation.