Thursday 29 September 2016

As our communities die out, we allow our doctors to leave

Lucia Gannon

Published 30/10/2015 | 02:30

Before this century reaches middle age, we will look back at a time when the GP, the priest, the local garda and the postmistress were more than just a service
Before this century reaches middle age, we will look back at a time when the GP, the priest, the local garda and the postmistress were more than just a service

Every GP in Ireland, young and old, has a decision to make. They are trained to diagnose, treat and care for your colicky new-born and your confused grandmother; figure out your headache and your chest pain, be it a crushing heart attack or a bit of indigestion; your painful knee and your 10-year-old's chicken pox.

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They will help you decide if your mood is depression or just a low spell; they will answer your questions about the latest contraceptive device and the medication your father received from the consultant. They have it all on the computer and can tell you when you last had your eyes checked, your smear taken and your blood sugar tested.

They have been doing this since they first hung their certificates on the walls of their surgery, opened the door and said "next please".

They have done the house call, even though it meant leaving the paper work, being late home and paying for the petrol, which was more than what they got for the visit (assuming they remembered to get you to sign the form so that they can get paid).

They have sat with the young dying woman in her home, to assess her pain and alleviate it. They have gone in the ambulance with the child who had meningitis, in the days before the regulations said this could not be done, in case they needed to resuscitate them on the way.

Some things are not work. Some things you do because you can, because you have to, because you do it well and because you make a difference. These are the things that you will look back on when you are long past your prime and say: "I was privileged to be able to do that", or "I made a difference". And so the giver gains most in the end.

One would not ask a professor of English to spend his day teaching the alphabet, or a mathematics teacher to spend his day counting the pupils in his class. Yet GPs in Ireland are asked to spend their days weighing and measuring healthy children, recording, ticking boxes, submitting reports and checking to see if they have received the promised payments - a difficult task, even before the new under-six, soon to be under-12, contracts. They are required to be available for consultation 40 hours a week, to be on-call seven days a week, or to pay another doctor to be available when they cannot.

Those who spent their holidays last year hiking or cycling on the Canadian trails or skiing the slopes in Ontario have already made their decision.

Their children will grow up playing ice hockey, not hurling - even though I know some would not have left home without their sliothar and hurley, signed by the local GAA heroes. These children will be fluent in French but will never get to answer to "Dia dhuit", or "go mbeannaigh Dia dhaoibh".

These are the doctors, teachers, lawyers, nurses and engineers of the future. They have left cousins and siblings and ageing parents behind. Parents that will not have anyone to sit with them in their home when they need pain relief and who, if they have a GP, will travel to a primary care centre where nobody knows their name, or that they were once a champion bridge player, led the local choir or organised the Daffodil Day coffee morning for the past 15 years because their sister died of cancer.

All they will be is another over-70, to be registered on the cycle of care with a GP that is pedalling faster and faster on the hamster wheel that Irish general practice has become.

A GP, who after ticking all the boxes and filling in all the forms, no longer feels or acts like a doctor.

Every day, my in-box has advertisements for medical jobs abroad. Information evenings on immigration for doctors are as commonplace as community bingo.

Everyone knows someone who has left and is not coming back. There is time to undo the damage that has been done, but there is no one willing to try. This is not the first time Irish people have been forced to leave the country.

We have a tradition of getting on well wherever we go. Irish doctors are no different. The stories from abroad are of families who are happy, positive, full of hope, with no hint of regret.

Before this century reaches middle age, we will look back at a time when the GP, the priest, the local garda and the postmistress were more than just a service.

When they were as much a part of our lives as our neighbours and friends. When they could be counted on to be there for the good and bad times. We will wonder how we let this happen.

How we lost so much. How we let it go. Who did we elect and what was their vision of life in Ireland? But by then, the milk will be spilled and the tears will be pointless.

Lucia Gannon works as a GP in Thurles

Irish Independent

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