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Bannview Medical Practice: Health minister says Southern Trust could step in to take on contract

'General practice here is on the edge of a full-blown crisis'

Northern Ireland's health minister Michelle O'Neill has said that the Southern Trust could step in and take on a GP contract at the crisis-hit Bannview Medical Practice.

It would mean one of Northern Ireland's five health trusts would be directly employing GPs.

Answering an urgent oral question in the Assembly on Tuesday Ms O'Neill said the Health and Social Care Board is still actively trying to get a permanent GP.

Plans to save the Portadown practice, which is currently functioning without a single GP, were announced earlier this month, but once again the future for more than 5,000 patients is unclear.

Bannview has been plagued with pressures since the summer, when a single doctor was left to care for 5,200 patients - two years after problems originally came to light.

After the doctor's resignation last month, a full-blown crisis emerged, with the practice relying on locums to care for patients at an estimated cost of £500 per day. And while the contractor lined up to take the reins in March was expected to put a stop to all that, the problems are now back on the table after the GP withdrew on Monday.

Ulster Unionist Party Hhealth spokesperson Jo-Anne Dobson said: "The Minister can only point to interim arrangements rather than give any concrete assurances around a permanent solution." 

DUP MLA Carla Lockhart said: "It is something that must be solved quickly with a sustainable solution put in place at the earliest convenience to ensure patient safety and continuation of care for all patients."

General Practitioners Committee (GPC) Northern Ireland chair Dr Tom Black told Pulse Today that situation in Bannview is happening all over Northern Ireland.

Dr Tom Black said: "Recent weeks have clearly shown that general practice here is on the edge of a full-blown crisis.

"GPs across the country have called for immediate investment to prevent the collapse of general practice and have taken the step of considering resigning from the health service to ensure this does not happen."

SDLP health spokesperson Mark H Durkan MLA said on Monday that a large scale departure of GPs from the Northern Ireland's health service would be a disaster and would further entrench the critical issues facing patients across Northern Ireland.

Mr Durkan: "News that hundreds of GPs are considering resigning because an emergency rescue package can no longer be implemented as a result of the collapse of the institutions is extremely worrying.

"Protecting public health is the first priority of any government, our health service is in the middle of a waiting list crisis, a primary care crisis and a GP service crisis.

"The election cannot be a six week holiday from those issues. Political posturing or party politicking must come second to protecting public health. The Minister must get around the table with health service professionals immediately and avert this situation."

The health minister said she is 'very aware of the challenges facing general practice'.

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