THE Students’ Union at the University of Limerick has said it is “extremely worried” about the lack of a full-time doctor on campus, to attend the medical needs of a student body of nearly 14,000, particularly if an emergency arises.
The university has confirmed to the Limerick Leader that it is beginning the process of tendering for the provision of a range of student welfare services, as a result of “a number of retirements and contracts for services ending” in this area.
When contacted by this newspaper, Dr Niall Cahill, who was medical director at UL for the past 15 years, said that he “regrets” that he is no longer working on the campus and cannot comment any further.
The Students’ Union has said that the medical service on campus has been steadily depleted since 2013, from in the region of 45 hours a week to about 12 hours in the current semester, and that their concerns are growing.
Inspite of the lack of a full-time doctor or medical director on campus, UL has said that there are a number of medical service providers providing GP, STI and contraceptive clinics to students on campus “on a daily basis”.
There is also a full-time clinical nurse on campus every day in the student health centre, UL said. However, there is no longer a doctor in charge of sexual health, which now comes under the remit of a nurse.
The university did not detail how many hours these professionals are available to students, but said that they have also entered into a formal arrangement with the Castletroy Park Medical Centre (CPMC), across the road from the UL campus, where a student may be directed, and also at its other premises on Pery Street in the city.
UL’s webpage for medical services also states “there is limited doctor availability at the Student Health Centre at present”.
Colin Clarke, president of the Students’ Union, said the level of medical attention being provided is not satisfactory, and the higher medical fee of €40 in CPMC –part of which is to be reimbursed by UL – could cause further difficulties for students. “We cannot co-operate with the current arrangement between UL and CPMC. It is not and will not be a feasible option for students in the interim period of a medical director being appointed,” said Mr Clarke.
Speaking on behalf of all the union officers, he said: “The welfare of our students is our number one priority. Students do not expect a full GP service, but the ability to see a medical doctor on campus who can prescribe medication is a minimum. Students understood the decision to bring in medical fees three years ago and they co-operated. We cannot co-operate with the current arrangement.”
Mr Clarke added that the figures in relation to the medical service “speak for themselves”.
“In the academic year 2012-13 there were 15 three-hour sessions of GP clinics a week for general medical queries. This did not include the STI or contraceptive clinics nor the physiotherapist or psychiatrist.
“The number of doctors’ clinics fell from 15 to 10 in 2013-14, then to eight in the autumn semester of 2014-15, and to seven in the spring semester. Currently this semester there are four clinics per week. The ratio of full-time doctors has fallen from 1.5 in 2013 to 0.5 this year.”
He said this is not a new problem as their student council has voiced concerns about the difficulty for students in getting a doctor’s appointment over the past 18 months.
In a statement to the Leader, UL said that students without medical cards are reimbursed by the university within three days if they incur a fee in excess of the €25 UL fee for a doctor consultation.
“The university’s arrangement with the CPMC also covers the availability of an out-of-hours, seven days/week service for students,” said a spokesperson for UL.
But Mr Clarke said when students were being advised to apply for a €15 refund from UL, there was uncertainty around how the money would be refunded and one student was told it may take up to four or five weeks to get a refund.
“It is not true that students are reimbursed by the university within three days if they incur a fee in excess of €25 and we have cases to prove it,” he told the Limerick Leader.
UL said it is “currently developing a new and improved model of student welfare services to meet the very diverse needs of our large student population”.
In the area of counselling services for students, UL said it has recently directed additional resources to it.