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Cognisance of the risk of elderly patients “slipping through the cracks” for COVID-19 vaccines due to the absence of permanent GPs must be heeded by the HSE, a Clare councillor has flagged.

In a query submitted to the Regional Health Forum West, Cllr Cillian Murphy (FF) appealed for information on “the process that ensures elderly patients of local GPs who are on long term leave, and who are being dealt with by a succession of locums on an ongoing basis, are not slipping through the cracks for Covid vaccination”.

A written reply from National Community Strategy and Planning noted that vaccine administration “is limited only by the supply of approved vaccines and that is dependent on manufacturers meeting their supply commitments”. The majority of patients over 85s have received their first dose of the vaccine “as scheduled” from their General Practitioner.

An acknowledgement of “problems with communication with GPs generally” was made by the HSE. “Some issues have arisen with the distribution of vaccines to some GP Practices over the last week and we wish to apologise to GP practices, their teams and the patients who may have been impacted by these.

Confidence was evident in the reply that “the totality of the over-70s programme will be completed within the original timeframe of mid-May”.

Of the response received, Cllr Murphy labelled it “very generic and seems to be very cut and paste”. At the time of writing the question, the Kilkee representative had been contacted by three women over the age of eighty who had no contact regarding their vaccine with their worry heightened “when they approached GP and due to extended absence and plethora of locums he hadn’t a clue”.

Significance in the difference “between someone going on holidays for a month or a week” and a practice that has had multiple locums was emphasised by Cllr Murphy. “There have been multiple locums, meeting a GP extremely personal, most people have a relationship with their GP, it’s not a customer or fleeting thing, it is a long term relationship built up”.

Failure to have a continuation of care can lead to “an awful potential negative impact,” the Fianna Fáil councillor believed. “There is a long-term issue, we have to treat long-term absences in a different way. It is leaving us very exposed in West Clare, we’re already dealing with a shortage of GPs in the community”.

Chief Officer with Mid West Community Healthcare, Maria Bridgeman said all members of the Forum were “aware of the challenges and difficulties we have in recruiting GPs especially to remote areas, many GPs want to work in bigger practices”. She said there was no intention to provide “copy and paste answers” in the responses to county councillors.

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