Call for action as patients feel ‘let down’ and ‘worried’ by lack of GPs

An MLA is to raise the lack of GPs in Portadown with the Health Minister as patients’ complaints rise.

Thursday, 5th November 2020, 9:39 am

SDLP MLA Dolores Kelly said constituents are ‘worried, angry and feel let down’ after being unable to access GP services for months.

One elderly patient revealed how she was asked to take a photo on her phone of her inflamed foot and email it to Bannview Medical Practice at Portadown Health Centre.

The 71-year-old said she had been in serious discomfort but was told she could not see a GP nor could she attend to have her blood pressure taken.

Portadown Health & Care Centre, Tavanagh Avenue, Portadown. Photographer - © Matt Mackey / Press Eye

“I don’t understand why I can’t see a doctor. I don’t know how to take a picture on a phone and send it to a doctor. My niece had to help me.

“The whole situation is making me really nervous and concerned. They need more doctors there and it needs sorted out as soon as possible,” she said. “That surgery has had more doctors than Harland and Wolff has had workers.”

It is understood GPs from Cookstown and Dungannon have been travelling to Portadown to work as locums at the practice which the Health Board says has 4,945 patients.

It is not known if any of the other six GP surgeries at Portadown Health Centre, which caters for 46,812 patients, also have issues with a lack of staff.

A statement from GP Practices within Portadown Health Centre said: “All the GPs within each individual Practice in Portadown are working tirelessly to support and care for their patients during these difficult time.”

Mrs Kelly said she raised the issue of a lack of permanent GPs at this practice with the Trust Chief Executive, Shane Devlin in a meeting with party colleague Justin McNulty MLA and intends to raise the matter with the Health Minister Robin Swann.

The Upper Bann MLA said: “I have been contacted by constituents who are worried and angry that they have been left without a permanent GP for months now and feel let down.

“We all know the important relationship between a GP and their patients, often forged through many years of service. People rely on their GP as the doctor who knows them best and as someone who will advocate for them when they need other treatments within the NHS.

“I was reassured to learn that negotiations are ongoing with an interested party and hope that a permanent solution will soon be found. In the meantime, measures have been put in place to ensure the practice is covered. I will be watching the situation closely and also raising the continuing shortage with the Health Minster Robin Swann.”

Mrs Kelly added: “The British Medical Association warned in a report in 2015/2016 that there was a developing crisis in the provision of GP services so the department has had ample time to address this worrying trend. I will be interested to hear what remedies they have put in place since then.”

The Southern Health and Social Care Trust was asked to comment but referred the paper to the Health and Social Care Board.

A spokesperson for HSCB said: “There are seven GP Practices in Portadown Health Centre, and at present, locum GPs are providing cover in Bannview Practice, as they do in many Practices. GPs, as independent contractors, are free to work in any practice, in any part of NI, on a locum basis.”

“In the face of unprecedented COVID-19 related pressures, GPs are continuing to support and care for patients across Northern Ireland.

“There is an overall shortage of GPs across NI and intermittently areas of Northern Ireland will experience a shortage of GP’s. This is more prevalent now with some GP’s having to self-isolate, as a result of contracting coronavirus, or being a close contact of someone who has contracted the virus.

“The HSCB is working with all GP Practices in order to ensure that during these difficult times, GP services continue to be provided to all patients.”

The Board was unable to reveal how many full time GPs work at the centre and how many were required to manage the number of patients enlisted.

It said: “As GPs are independent contractors you will need to contact the GP practices within Portadown Health Centre to respond to this question.”

The Board added that it did not hold information on how many GPs had left the health centre over the past two years and suggested the paper contact each independent GP practice.

When asked how many locum doctors are being used at the surgery and how regularly, the Board said: “As GPs are independent contractors you will need to contact the GP practices within Portadown Health Centre to respond to this question. GPs, as independent contractors, are free to work in any practice, in any part of NI, on a locum basis.

When asked what is the extra cost of managing the centre, the Board said: “The Portadown Health Centre is owned and managed by the Southern Health and Social Care Trust. GP practices working within the centre are independent contractors and hold a General Medical Services Contract with the Health and Social Care Board. GPs with contracts are required to work within the budget of that contract.”

Mrs Kelly said that it was unacceptable that the issue had been ‘pushed from pillar to post’. “It is evasive and disingenuous,” she added.

“The British Medical Association flagged up these issues five years ago. The Southern Health Trust has one of the largest populations in NI and the Portadown area has seen a huge rise in its demographics. Surely they should have been working with universities on this matter.”

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