Moving to a community, or trying to find a free appointment spot in a clinic with a new GP after the death of your own local doctor, is an operation fraught with concern. One may soon need blood pressure tablets, if it doesn’t improve.

Two phone calls in recent weeks sum up just how difficult, if not impossible, it has become. The first came from a young woman with a new baby who has transferred to these parts. Her husband’s sudden job offer and promotion meant moving the family nearly 80 miles overnight.

Ironically, finding a house to rent was not the biggest problem. Granted the cost was a high one – €1,400 a month for a three-bed is quite severe in my mind for rural Ireland – but this young couple were well-prepared to pay, and the truth is they would have paid any price for a GP clinic as well… if they could have found one.

The issue is that at the moment, there are no spaces left at many GP surgeries around the country. At a recent community meeting in Sligo, I was told that the retirement of many older doctors has put the system to the pin of its collar.

Ukrainian families

The second phone call was from a good HSE friend in the west who has been doing his utmost to try and get more GP spaces for the dozens of Ukrainian families arriving here week after week – and has also come up with a few duck eggs. He says it’s been a nightmare from start to finish and he really worries about the knock-on implications.

The situation facing these families is even worse than the one facing the locals. Although inconvenient, I can get into the car and drive my son to the GP’s clinic some 20km away if he is in pain or distress. Most of these families have no transport of their own and will have to rely instead on the Local Link or a taxi service.

The purpose of the phone call was to inquire if I knew of any GPs or doctors who were not practising here but perhaps living locally, the idea being that they might be persuaded to do a new weekly clinic in the area. While it was worth a try, it also turned out to be a fruitless search.

There’s a serious local health emergency at the heart of this situation now unfolding

There’s a serious local health emergency at the heart of this situation now unfolding. The Irish College of General Practitioners says they currently have about 4,000 GPs in the country, but we should have over 6,000. They also say there will be 600 additional retirements in the next three years and that means a crisis is coming down the line – one that all of us will appreciate as parents of newborn babies.

Like myself, I am sure many of you will remember that day when the baby was ill or badly out of sorts, throwing up a bottle and leaving both parents in an absolute state of high anxiety. New parents in particular go through this all the time – those crazy few hours of total chaos in your minds when one often naturally thinks the very worst is about to happen to your child.

The problem is that if the doctor is not there in the local community to do the examination, the trauma grows minute by minute. Often the concern will lead to a call-out for an ambulance or a mad dash to the emergency department of a local hospital that is already snowed under and experiencing critical pressure on beds and staff.

In the space of a few hours, this sort of scenario can effectively shut down acute hospitals around the country and cause chaos in other medical centres and primary care units, not to mention the ambulance demands.

And the moral of the story? If you happen to have a place in the surgery with a local GP or doctor: treasure it, keep using it and hold onto it with your dear life. The wider problem is a huge challenge for our society and Government. It’s going to take decades to fix – and that’s if it can indeed be fixed at all.

Now, where’s that prescription for the blood pressure tablets?

The start of the ‘mock’ Leaving Cert

It’s a testing week for the Mullooly household with the start of the ‘mock’ Leaving Cert exams and parents all over the country are in the same boat – which is why last week’s feature in the Irish Country Living magazine here in the Journal was such a Godsend. The focus on apprenticeships is hugely welcome. We have to get away from the rat race of the CAO points system as quickly as we can and let’s face it – there’s huge work out there for electricians and plumbers all the time. I, for one, can never find one when I am looking for one and it’s a real pain searching!

Follow Ciaran on X Twitter at @ciaranmullooly

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