12. Deputy John Brady asked the Minister for Health if funding will be allocated for the delivery of a general practitioner out-of-hours service for north County Wicklow in the HSE service plan; and if he will make a statement on the matter. (Question 6109/18 asked on 08 Feb 2018)
Deputy John Brady: In October 2016, the Minister announced he had secured the funding to roll out a GP out-of-hours service in his constituency of Wicklow and specifically in the north Wicklow area, which is one of the last major urban areas in the State to have a dedicated HSE-funded out-of-hours service. It was due to come into operation in early 2017 and mysteriously the funding was pulled. Will the Minister update the House about that service which was due to be rolled out in 2017 and if the funding is now secure?
Deputy Simon Harris: I am delighted to be delivering this service which is badly needed for people in north Wicklow. He is right that I would have liked to have seen it delivered earlier, as I know he would have also. We are one of the last parts of the country without an out of hours general practitioner, GP, service, which is very important for looking after citizens in north Wicklow and to ease pressure on the acute hospital setting. I am committed to the development of an out of hours GP service for north Wicklow which can provide the appropriate level of cover for the population in our area. The development of such a service will allow GPs to participate fully in the provision of an integrated health care system, providing medical services that are appropriate, timely and effective, easily accessible and responsive to the needs of patients.
There is funding provision for the introduction of a structured out of hours GP service for the south Dublin and north Wicklow area in the HSE 2018 national service plan. I previously directed the Deputy to page 28 of the plan. This service is intended to cover the night time hours from Monday to Friday and to provide cover at weekends and public holidays, providing urgent general practitioner services to patients outside normal surgery hours. The service will include initial triage and GP consultation at treatment centres or home visits as appropriate, in accordance with HIQA standards for safer better health care. The procurement process to identify a service provider is expected to commence shortly and, subject to successful selection of a suitable service provider, the service is scheduled to be operational in the second half of this year. As I have said, that means this summer. Most importantly, the HSE will be arranging to meet with local GPs to consult them on the development of this service and to brief them on these developments. I expect that to happen in the next few days.
Deputy John Brady: We have had promises from the Minister before that the funding was secured for this in 2016. He took to social media and the airwaves to announce that it would be rolled out in the early part of 2017. No explanation was ever given to his constituents, the people who desperately need this and lie waiting for 72 hours for a GP who never shows up. An explanation is due to those people and to the GPs who had signed up to the new north-east Wicklow doctor on call service which was due to be rolled out in February 2017. No explanation or apology was ever given to those people. While the Minister’s words here today are welcome, they are taken with a pinch of salt because we have not seen the tender documents or no negotiations have taken place with the GPs who had formed the co-operative last year to roll it out. Will the Minister give categorical assurances that discussions have taken place with those GPs that have formed the co-operative? Will he give an explanation of why funding was pulled from that service in Wicklow?
Acting Chairman (Deputy Eugene Murphy): The Deputy will prevent his colleague from asking her question if he continues.
Deputy John Brady: His constituents and my constituents, the people who depend on that, deserve an explanation.
Deputy Simon Harris: I know very well how to communicate with the people of my constituency.
Deputy John Brady: Maybe not on this issue.
Deputy Simon Harris: This issue is one that I will deliver on. The Government will deliver on it and make a better health service in north Wicklow. Those are facts. If the Deputy wants to know where the money is, some €25 million is ring-fenced in a development fund for primary care in 2018. The funding for the delivery of a north Wicklow and south Dublin out of hours GP service will come from that primary care fund. This is already spelled out in the HSE service plan; I think it is on page 28. As I have said, it is in black and white in the HSE service plan. The funds are being held in my Department to ensure the delivery of the service. I would have liked to see the service delivered last year, and so would the GPs. The HSE hoped to put it in place but was not possible. It will be delivered this year. There will be consultation with the GPs which will happen in the coming days but then there will have to be a procurement process which I expect to happen this month.
Deputy John Brady: The Minister says that the procurement process will be initiated this month for a service to commence in June. No discussions have taken place with any GPs so he does not know if the GPs, who were essentially burned this year although they had signed up and formed a co-operative, are available and willing to offer this service to people. There is bad taste there from the Minister’s office with GPs who are ready, willing and able to roll this service out. No discussions have taken place. Is the Minister giving categorical assurances that this service will be rolled out in June one way or another?
Deputy Simon Harris: No discussions have taken place because the HSE does not go into a room with a bunch of people and decide to award a public contract. Public procurement will have to be advertised on the eTenders website for anybody who wishes to provide the service to be able to apply. I think the Deputy and I would agree that it is appropriate to ask the HSE to brief the local GPs about that service. That will happen in the next number of days. I expect the procurement process to commence this month. Obviously, in a procurement process, one needs people to apply but subject to people successfully navigating that procurement process, I expect the service to be provided in June. This is a fully funded service. There is a dedicated resource for this. We just have to go through the formal process of procurement.