MIDOC have said there is simply not enough demand in Birr or Edenderry to keep the two satellite centres open.
Moreover, the closures have highlighted the severe pressure currently facing GPs in the county, with difficulties in attracting new doctors to fill posts.
It has come to light that in Birr, one doctor's list has been advertised four times with no suitably qualified applicants, while another GP in Birr has been advertising for over a year for a GP assistant with no success.
In a letter addressed to all public representatives and the three Oireachtas members, and seen by the Offaly Indpendent, Dr Velma Harkins, chair of MIDOC Offaly, and Dr Jerry O'Flynn, Medical Director of MIDOC Out-of-Hours, listed the reasons why the decision was taken to close the out-of-hours service a number of weeks ago.
“Keeping Birr and Eden-derry centres open is not sutainable. There is not enough demand,” read the MIDOC statement. “The realignment of services is not due to budgetary constraints, but GP manpower constraints and the requirement to make the services more streamlined,” it continued.
The numbers provided by MIDOC showing attendances at the treatment centres in 2016 outlined that there were 17,223 attendances in Tullamore, averaging 46 patients daily. By comparison in Birr, there were only 2,361 attendances during 2016, averaging 7 patients daily, while in Edenderry, there were just 721 attendances in 2016.
Last year, those numbers were lower again, with just 2,193 patients attending Birr MIDOC, and 422 attending the Edenderry MIDOC.
Dr Velma Harkins, chair of MIDOC Offaly, said the decision was made by the GPs in consultation with the HSE following Clinical Risk Assessment by independent medical auditors. “We do not believe the closure of these centres poses any risk to local populations,” the letter said.
In fact, the decision, the statement continued, was not made due to monetary resources but because of decreased manpower resources in the form of doctors, available to work in the out-of-hours setting."The reality is that GP services in the region are stretched as it is, and there are many unfilled GMS posts in the midlands.
“Dr McGovern’s list in Birr has been advertised four times with no suitably qualified applicants. Another GP in Birr has been advertising for over a year for a GP assistant with no success.
"We need to be careful to preserve and protect the excellent daytime GP services being provided to patitents. When GPs do their shifts in MIDOC, they have already worked a long day in their own practice and then have to go into work in the out-of-hours until midnight that tday or else have to work a full Saturday or Sunday on top of their regular week’s work.
“Responsibility for safe clinical care of patients ultimately rests with the clinicians. Decisions need to be made on the basis of what is clinically safe and in the best interests of the county as a whole.
“The realignment strengthens the services being offered in Tullamore, and enables doctors to increase the capacity for house calls to the vulnerable, the elderly and the terminally ill.
“Neighbouring counties like Laois with similar populations and geography do not have sateillite centres.”
Responding to the statement, Cllr Noel Bourke, chair of the Edenderry Municipal District said he was “disappointed and annoyed” that MIDOC representatives failed to meet them face-to-face.
“I am extremely disappointed that the HSE weren’t proactive in putting in place a system in these two areas, which is what the people clearly want. We discussed it at a council meeting on Wednesday and the outcome of that is that we are seeking another meeting with MIDOC representatives.”