Saturday 20 January 2018

'We are being asked to live with one hand tied behind our backs'

Dr John O'Dea, a GP in north Clare, says poor broadband is hurting rural communities
Dr John O'Dea, a GP in north Clare, says poor broadband is hurting rural communities

Greg Harkin

Rural GPs are struggling with poor internet coverage, according to one family doctor.

Dr John O'Dea is part of a three-doctor practice in Ballyvaughan in Co Clare.

They pay a provider €65 a month for a broadband service to their practice.

Each doctor then pays another €45 each for coverage at their homes.

"That's €200 per month to allow us to go online, which we need to do - but the service is pretty shocking," says Dr O'Dea.

"I'm not an expert on bandwidth to be honest, but it's just very, very slow all of the time."

The medical practice is remote, he says, and made even more remote by poor internet coverage and terrible roads.

All of which makes it harder to sustain a rural community - and the students who come to the practice.

"We take medical students in 18-week blocs from both Galway and Limerick [universities] and they also need to get online but the coverage we get is pretty dreadful," says Dr O'Dea.

"We live in hope all the time that some day it might just get better. The latest date for an improvement is somewhere around 2020 but we're not sure it's going to happen then either."

Dr O'Dea was part of the election team for fellow GP Dr Michael Harty, who was elected to the Dáil in February.

"I knew things were bad but even I didn't realise how bad rural Clare had become until I was out canvassing," he says. "We were knocking on doors of empty homes and going up farm lanes where families used to live. The countryside has been abandoned. Rural Ireland is dying."

His village - on a stunning part of the Wild Atlantic Way - cannot attract new residents either.

"We are 50km from Galway and 40km from Ennis. If people wanted to live here and commute to work, they can't. The roads are dreadful, and when you do make it home, you cannot do any work online.

"We feel as though we are being asked to live with one hand permanently tied behind our backs," he says.

Irish Independent

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