Irish Institute of Rural Health Ltd

Irish Rural Doctor's Group



The Irish Rural Doctor's Group is in existence since 1984. An annual conference of Rural Doctors is held in Westport every year. Previously these meetings were held in Mulranny, Co Mayo. Dr Jerry Cowley is Chairman of the Rural Doctor's Group of the Irish Medical Organisation.

The Problems

Depopulation -the need for proper policy

This group conducted a survey of rural practice populations which showed a 20% drop in practice population over a number of years. As a result of the continuing depopulation of rural areas the Rural Doctor's Group has been pushing for the supports to be given to rural areas necessary to sustain it's population.

Because of a fall in the rural doctor's panel he would not be replaced when he retires as was happening in some cases so that people would have to travel further and further to get the services of a doctor. This resulted in an inferior medical service because of the distances people had to travel to see a doctor when they became ill. This was the direct opposite to towns where there was a surplus of doctors.

It is our contention that the rural population deserve the same standards of medical service as exists in the cities and towns. Further we have described the vicious circle of continuing depopulation and erosion of services in rural areas. In other words who will settle in a rural area when there is no adequate service? Similarly schools and post offices and garda stations have been closed because of a fall in rural population. For some years now we have tried to highlight this situation in an effort to cause policy to be in place to counteract this. We feel that rural dwellers deserve equality of services. We feel the rural culture is worth retaining but we see lack of action as contributing to it's eventual demise.

In one area beside the writer the population fell from 1,600 to 800 in 50 years. Proper policy would include replacing a doctor in a rural area when he dies or retires.

An example of bad policy by Government happened some years ago when dispensing of medicines to rural patients was abolished so that rural dwellers had to go into nearby towns to get their medicines dispensed. This resulted in terrible hardship to patients , with some having to make round trips of 50 miles to get essential medicines. There are no Pharmacists in remote areas because it is not comercially viable for them to set up shop. So it is left to rural doctors to supply these essential medicines.

Thankfully reason prevailed and dispensing by rural doctors was brought back. Were this situation to continue not only would patients in rural areas have to undergo terrible hardship to get their medicines, but eventually they would decide it was more economic to bypass the rural GP and travel to the town to see the town doctor as well, thus further ensuring the demise of the rural GP.

Our future - our youth

Rural Practitioners are an essential part of the existing infrastructure in rural Ireland, and are well placed to influence in a positive way the survival of rural communities. Our greatest hope for the future are our youth and we have seen too many leave their area because of lack of opportunity. There is a great need for proper tax incentives to encourage investment in rural areas and so provide employment. Some areas, including our own have set up little advance factories in the hope of attracting light industry but in the absence of some positive discrimination there is no great hope of this despite the 'Celtic Tiger Economy' which has sidestepped rural Ireland and Counties Mayo, Roscommon and Leitrim in particular.

Our Older Citizens deserve equality

Our elderly alone also experience a sad silent emigration to faraway nursing homes and old folk's institutions when they have no one to care for them and can no longer look after themselves. In our own area and to a varying degree in a great many rural areas voluntary housing projects in association with the State are providing an alternative for those elderly citizens to stay in their own area. This is only as it should be. Our 'St Brendan's Village' strives to provide this opportunity for our elderly and handicapped to stay in their own area, and some of our elderly emigrants have come back again from abroad and some have returned from the Old Folks Homes as well.

The Future

But whilst the most of the capital cost funding is available for these worthwhile projects they are in great danger of not suceeding because of a lack of ongoing care funding. This is in stark contrast to the £65 million paid from 1990 to 1997 to profit driven non community urban nursing homes. There needs to be more of a balance here in favour of rural community initiatives. This is yet another example of urban biased policy.

This needs to change.

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| Irish Times Aug 1999 | Irish Post Mar 2000 |

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Irish Rural Doctor's Group