Inishturk faces Christmas with no medical cover

Irish Islands Federation says problem reflects wider issue of cutbacks

The exposed west coast island of Inishturk faces its first Christmas in decades without medical cover, due to a failure to fill its vacant nursing post.

"We are at our wits' end, with so many promises that haven't been kept," Inishturk community worker Mary Heanue said.

Comhdháil Oileáin na hÉireann, the Irish Islands Federation, has called on the Health Service Executive (HSE) West to reinstate a basic medical service for the community of 58 residents, living 14.5km (9 miles) off the west Mayo coast.

The federation says it is part of a wider issue relating to cutbacks in healthcare for offshore islands, an issue about which it has been seeking an urgent meeting with HSE West for several months.


Inishturk residents have had no daily access to medical care since September 20th of this year, when their nurse of 30 years retired. She had been due to stand down last December (2013), but stayed on at the request of HSE West while a replacement was found.

Since 2009 the island has been afforded no locums to cover the nurse’s leave.

“She had often worked during her time off to ensure her neighbours received medical care, and never wanted to see us wanting, but it is unfair of the HSE to take advantage of this,” Ms Heanue said.

Babies and children

Similarly, no locum cover was approved after her retirement three months ago. Islanders say they have no idea when the post will be filled permanently. An extra 30 people, including several babies and small children, are expected to stay on the island over Christmas, and one resident is five months pregnant.

“We were told that unless we had a pregnant woman, or somebody in dressings or requiring injections,we were not entitled to a locum,” Ms Heanue said. “The island has had two days of medical cover since September – once when a GP visited from Clifden and once when the Clare Island nurse came out for a day,” Ms Heanue said.

Árainn Mhór

Residents of Árainn Mhór, Co


, had to mobilise the community earlier this year to resist cutbacks to vital public health nursing cover.

"The community on Inis Oírr, Co Galway, has had medical cover reduced since April," the island federation said.

The southernmost Aran island had a resident public health nurse providing five-day cover, but now has a registered general nurse who travels to the island twice a week, weather permitting.

“Cape Clear, Co Cork, faces similar challenges to this essential service and islanders across the country are extremely worried that any further reduction in services will have a disproportionate impact on already fragile communities,” the federation said.


Comhdháil Oileáin na hÉireann chairman Mairtín Ó Méalóid of Cape Clear said the provision of nursing services “is and always will be a key element to the sustainability of our island communities”.

HSE West said a decision had been taken to conduct a national, rather than a local, review of all island services in 2015. “This review will ensure that there is a nationally agreed range of primary care services which can be provided to offshore islands,” HSE West said.

HSE West also said it was “in the process” of placing a permanent nurse on Inishturk and was actively seeking locum cover but in the interim, medical services would be provided by a mainland GP.

Lorna Siggins

Lorna Siggins

Lorna Siggins is the former western and marine correspondent of The Irish Times