Donegal woman’s hospital ordeal fuels GP shortage debate

Dr. James McDaid claims Irish doctors are mainly leaving for Australia where there’s better pay.

A DONEGAL woman claims she was rushed to hospital after collapsing in her Ballybofey home because she was unable to get a GP appointment.

65-year-old Teresa Gillespie spoke to the Donegal News in a week when the issue of GP shortages was once again raised in Dáil Éireann.


She said her family has been registered with the same doctors for many years, still holds them in high regard, but feels her case highlights the “broken GP system” that has been allowed to emerge due to the neglect of successive governments.

“When I phoned the GP surgery they said there was absolutely nothing available,” Teresa said.

“I explained that I was quite ill in bed. I asked if they could let me know if there was a cancellation. The doctor just kept insisting there were no appointments.”

The mother of seven said she rarely requires medical attention and seldom visits her GP.

However, when the need arose on January 5, she felt let down by the system..

“It was Friday morning and I was told there was no hope of being seen. Later in the day I decided to get up and just go to the doctor even though I didn’t have an appointment.

“As soon as I struggled out of bed I just collapsed on the floor. Influenza ‘A’ was the main problem but it was complicated by other health problems at the time and my immune system had become very low,” said Teresa.


“I tried to walk and collapsed. I thought I was having a stroke because I couldn’t talk or hold a glass. My daughter-in-law is a nurse and she arrived.

“My heart was racing at that stage and she was quite concerned but I was reassured by her.

“It was very worrying because I had an awful pain in my leg and thought it might be a clot because I have some bad veins in that leg.

Thankfully, it turned out that wasn’t the case,” continued Teresa.

The ambulance crew arrived and transported Teresa to Letterkenny University Hospital. She received medication while on the ambulance trolley within the hospital building and didn’t require admission, as her temperature returned to normal after several hours.

“I’m convinced that I could have avoided A&E if I had been able to get an appointment with my doctor. Getting the ambulance, and everything else, cost the State a lot of money and that could have been avoided.

“Also, there is all the trauma of being put into an ambulance, brought to hospital, and then waiting on a trolley when none of that was necessary.

“My two daughters were here on holidays, including one from the Netherlands. She could not believe the state of our health service compared to what she’s used to,” according to Teresa.

Fortunately, Teresa has since made a full recovery. However, her case highlights the pressures facing GPs, where timely access to their services might be a matter of life and death. These pressures are inevitably being transferred to Emergency Departments.

Yesterday, the Rural Independent Group of TDs introduced a motion in the Dáil demanding immediate government action concerning the GP shortages in rural Ireland.

Led by Deputy Mattie McGrath, the group highlighted recent data revealing that two-thirds of rural GPs are currently unable to accept new patients, with some existing patients having to wait up to two weeks for appointments.

“I would say it’s more than two-thirds,” suggests retired GP and former Minister, Dr. James McDaid.

Despite recently retiring from General Practice, Dr. McDaid remains well aware of the challenges confronting his former colleagues and maintains close connections within the medical profession throughout Donegal.

“Doctors are leaving Ireland for Australia. That’s the big destination for Irish doctors. Most of them intend to come back eventually but it’s very hard to get them into that frame of mind unless the government does something.

“It will take a long time before we have the same facilities as they have over there. At the end of the day doctors need to have accommodation and a reasonable payment. The money they receive in Australia far exceeds what they’d get here,” suggests Dr. McDaid.

GPs are reporting nearing burnout as a result of heavy workloads and excessively long hours. With medical advancements leading to longer life expectancies, Donegal is experiencing an aging population.

The county is also accommodating thousands of Ukrainian refugees who have been granted unique protection status, further adding to the demands on healthcare services.

“Most of these refugees have very poor English so practices are appointing doctors whose sole job is providing interpretation. It means the amount of time needed to see one patient has doubled.

“The country is crying out for additional GPs and we need more women doctors because some patients prefer to see a female doctor and there’s currently a major scarcity,” added Dr McDaid.

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