Clock is ticking: Sneem is waiting for news of new GP
But a spirited campaign by locals has triggered interest in position
Dr Patrick Malone has said that Sneem cannot be left without a full-time GP and has called on the HSE to "think outside the box" when it comes to attracting GPs to rural parts of the country.
Dr Malone has served as a GP in Sneem since 1985 but is due to retire in two months' time. He informed the HSE in April of his intention to retire in October but, while the HSE said the post has been advertised twice nationally and internationally, no application was received.
The HSE's third attempt to fill the position is ongoing, but a 5pm August 11 deadline is looming.
The Kerryman understands that at least three GPs are interested in the role and will apply for the post. But Dr Malone has reiterated his call for the HSE to make certain that a full-time replacement will be put in place and he also said that more needs to be done for areas in similar situations to Sneem's.
"There is a real sense of fear in Sneem and its surrounds that it will be left without its full-time service," he said.
"Things are looking up thankfully. I know of a Spanish locum who is interested, and two others from Cork have noticed our story in the media and have shown an interest in job sharing. They have indicated they will visit Sneem this week.
"This comes after online and print petitions have been distributed by locals calling for the GP service to be maintained, and the fact that over 1,000 signatures have been received highlights the seriousness of this situation. We know now that if the position isn't filled that it won't have been down to a lack of interest.
"We are serving an area of around 1,000 people here, but the population balloons during the summer months as we are talking about a prime destination for tourists. Parknasilla is like Picadilly Circus at this time of year! Outside of tourism, a lot more people have come to live here in recent years. Thriving local businesses have attracted an influx of families and hard-working people, and I cannot contemplate a situation in which this place is left without a GP."
The nearest service outside of Sneem is in Kenmare, some 20 miles away. Dr Malone said this would be an unacceptable situation that could cause a drift of people and business from Sneem.
"Sneem has a lot going for it - it's a thriving village in one of the most beautiful places on earth, but you'd never have guessed that from the initial HSE advertisement, which did nothing to emphasise the attractiveness of the place. This was emphasised in the third advertisement, but only after being prompted.
"Some 10 percent of GPs in Kerry are due to retire in the next two years, and we need to see much more done for rural practices. We currently have a system that accepts elite Leaving Cert performers over those best suited to being GPs, and conditions in our cities and large towns are far more attractive on almost all fronts to the majority of Irish professionals.
"We may well need to look at qualified doctors in other European countries who are suitable and willing to take up these roles in rural areas in Ireland. There are many factors for the difficulty in filling rural GP positions - but what is clear is the need for a major rethink around our approach to GP services in rural places."
The HSE has reiterated its commitment this week to filling the position and said it is working extensively to identify a GP to take up the contract.
Any one with an interest in the position in Sneem is urgently asked to contact Dr Malone at (064) 664 5102 or visit the HSE website at www.hse.ie/eng/staff/Jobs/Job_Search/Medical_Dental/General_Practitioners/PM1717.html. An application form is linked on that web page.