GP warns of crisis in frontline care

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A Lurgan GP has warned of a growing crisis in front line health services as the public are urged to sign a petition calling for more help for local doctors.

Dr Maurice Eakin said surgeries across the town are experiencing problems with a lack of available locum doctors to cover sick leave and a shortage of GPs.

His warning comes as Ulster Unionist MLA Jo-Anne Dobson called for the public to back the British Medical Association ‘GP Crisis’ Petition.

The petition wants 10% of the NI Healthcare budget invested on a safe, sustainable GP service for patients; training more GPs so practices at risk of closure can stay open and meet the needs of patients; reducing bureaucracy and improve IT systems so more time can be spent providing care to patients.

There is a high percentage of GP’s in Northern Ireland and in this area over the age of 50 who will be retiring in the next 10 years when they reach the age of 60.

His practice at High St Surgery caters for 9,500 patients, the second largest in the southern health trust with only three full time and three part time GPs.

“This is unacceptable. The health service is relying on the good nature of many front line staff,” he said.

Dr Eakin said many GPs are working extensive hours with few breaks and some doctors’ health has been affected.

“People are waiting longer for appointments.”

He said recently the surgery had advertised for a full time GP and they had no applicants. On the second advertisement, they asked for full time or part time doctors.

“I am over 60 and working part time, but I love the job,” he said, adding that many GPs go beyond the hours they are paid to work, rarely leaving the surgery at the appointed time and taking limited breaks.

“This is affecting local doctors’ health,” he said. adding that over the years the health service has pressed more duties on GPs without backing it up with funding.

He said both the High St Surgery and Moores Lane has been pressing for new premises for years without success. And the idea of creating a new GP hub similar to Portadown has been ‘just talk’ for 20 years.

Mrs Dobson described it as a ‘wake up call’ and called on Health Minister Michelle O’Neill to outline measures she has planned to deal with this ‘crisis’.

“In June I moved an Assembly Motion calling on the Minister to address the unprecedented crisis. While I continue to support the BMA in raising this issue the onus is now firmly on the Minister to respond and to give us the concrete measures which she plans to take to help solve this crisis rather than allow the system to continue to spin out of the control. Many challenges lie ahead, but the Minister simply cannot afford to adopt a ‘do nothing’ approach as this is a situation which will not resolve itself. With a number of our GP’s set to retire in the coming months and the major on-going problem of providing adequate cover for the out-of-hours service, the need for a new workforce planning system to be put in place is crystal clear. Failure to act quickly could result in people coming to harm a situation which must be avoided.”

The petition is available in most GP surgeries.