Consultation needed to lessen pressure on GP and other essential services from refugee and asylum seeker accommodation

Clare Independent TD Michael McNamara has called for ongoing consultation with communities hosting refugees and asylum seekers, in particular for the Government to outline its plans to address the increased strain placed on GP services as a result of the arrival of Ukrainian refugees and international protection applicants, citing his hometown in East Clare as an example.

Raising the matter with Taoiseach Leo Varadkar during Leader’s Questions, Deputy McNamara said, “Soon after the outbreak of the war in Ukraine last year, 40 Ukrainians arrived in Flagmount. Earlier this year, the east Clare holiday village was repurposed and 220 arrived. Very recently, the former hotel in Scarriff was repurposed and is taking up to 75 asylum seekers. Throughout that time the medical centre in Scarriff that serves all of those areas has received no communication whatsoever from either IPAS [International Protection Accommodation Services] or the HSE, with regard to this.”

“The Taoiseach will know that medical centres across Ireland generally, and particularly in rural Ireland, are under pressure. There are more GPs retiring than coming through for rural practice. There are difficulties around that. They obviously want to provide a service to everybody in their community, both people who have been there for a long time and people who have recently arrived,” added Deputy McNamara.

He continued, “We simply cannot pretend that new people arriving does not create additional pressures in a community. It does. If people do not speak English fluently, or at all in some instances, it will create additional difficulties in that consultation periods are longer.”

“We need an all-of-government approach because we need to make sure that the people who are coming are integrated and receive the services they require, just as we need to make sure there is not a reduction or diminution in services in the communities which are receiving them,” stated Deputy McNamara.

In response, Taoiseach Leo Varadkar said, “I want to acknowledge in particular the very real welcome people in County Clare have given people coming from Ukraine and for that reason €3 million was allocated to County Clare as part of the community recognition fund. But it does create pressures on schools and on GP services.”

“There is not a quick fix to it but the kind of things we are doing, other than of course providing medical cards for people who need them who are coming to Ireland from Ukraine and elsewhere, is increasing the number of GPs we are training,” he added. “That will soon be up to 300 per year quite soon, which is a doubling of the number of GPs we train every year.”

The Taoiseach said the Government also is examining a proposal from the University of Galway to establish a new graduate entry programme into medical school for those who live in rural Ireland and who want to do remote and rural medicine.

“That would create a dedicated stream of people who are a little bit older going into medical school, who want to stay in Ireland and who particularly want to engage in remote and rural medicine. The University of Galway has a really interesting proposal in that regard, but it does take time from when we start training people now for them to be available,” he said.

While acknowledging that efforts were underway at national level to increase the number of qualified GPs in the long term, Deputy McNamara has reiterated that a more targeted plan to assist communities was required to assist local communities in the short term.

“We do need a whole-of-government approach because what we cannot have is service providers, in particular vital services like GPs, having to choose between providing a service to their existing patients or maybe the growing families of existing patients, and new patients who are coming in. That will create division and resentment, and understandable resentment, and we just cannot have that,” he explained.

“The Government must ensure there is a plan for areas that are accepting persons seeking international protection and those who have temporary protection, and that plan is clearly communicated to those communities,” concluded Deputy McNamara.