Out-of-hours doctor service for 600,000 faces 10pc fund cut
THE country's largest out-of-hours GP cover service faces a 10pc cut in its HSE funding this year.
The cut to SouthDoc, which provides an out-of-hours service for 600,000 patients in Cork and Kerry, will come on top of a 25pc cutback since 2008.
The HSE provided €7m in 2012 and is expected to cut this by at least €700,000 for 2013.
Meanwhile, SouthDoc has warned that closure and the loss of all 179 jobs is "a certainty" if it has to compensate staff who claim their wages were reduced without agreement.
The row involves 22 drivers and administrative staff and has been rumbling on for seven months at an employment appeals tribunal.
The staff are members of the Independent Workers Union (IWU) and claim they never agreed to a proposed 20pc pay cut and then a compromise 10pc pay cut – which was subsequently imposed.
The IWU accused the service of "taking the easy option'' of balancing its books through wage reduction.
"SouthDoc is asking its employees to accept their failure to manage. No attempt appears to have been made to seek alternative additional funding either by way of donation or sponsorship," a union spokesman said.
The service is entirely dependent on HSE funding – as the fees go to the GPs.
SouthDoc general manager, Maire Hussey, has warned that further cuts could slash its budget by 34.6pc in just four years. This year's cut has not been determined but SouthDoc admitted it expects it to be in the order of 10pc.
It complained that media coverage of the employment appeals tribunal last October left it facing "operational difficulties, employee confidence difficulties and patient confidence difficulties."
It said its bank had contacted it to check its status while an IT firm pulled out of a crucial contract and one garage refused to extend credit to an official who had to pay for his own diesel on a call-out.
In 2011, SouthDoc dealt with 200,000 patient contacts across 27 care centres, with almost 50pc of the calls involving children and the elderly.
In a bid to operate within budgets, it has axed 90 jobs in four years through voluntary and compulsory redundancies as well as retirements.
SouthDoc is challenging any compensation order, warning that this will force a shutdown.
"Any compensation order will spell the end of the appellants' 22 jobs and (for) their 157 colleagues," it said.
"The closure of the service is a certainty" without cost savings and co-operation from staff.