20 GP surgeries face closure in Northern Ireland affecting 120,000 patients, warns top doctor
The GP crisis that has taken hold at a Portadown surgery is spreading across Northern Ireland - with warnings that 120,000 patients could be without a local doctor by the end of the year.
As GPs warned that people could soon be paying for their healthcare, practices in Antrim and Fermanagh are also facing problems.
At Bannview Medical Practice in Portadown alone, 5,200 patients are currently without a permanent doctor, while 2,000 in Co Fermanagh have been forced to travel to other surgeries after their practice closed down before Christmas.
Dr Tom Black from the NI General Practice Committee warned a staggering 13 practices could close in the Erne County, going from 18 down to five.
And he added that he expected 20 to close across Northern Ireland this year, each with an average of 6,000 patients.
"This is an extraordinary indictment of the lack of planning in general practice," he said. "We've been warning of this for 10 years and there has been consistent failing to make this area of medicine a priority. We've been left with a potential disaster."
Dr Grainne Doran, chair of the Royal College of General Practitioners NI, said: "There are grave challenges facing the health and social care service in Northern Ireland. Patient waiting lists continue to grow, patient care is at risk and GP morale is plummeting. Promises are not enough."
Antrim Coast Medical Practice in Glenarm has just over two months before its long-term GP retires. Dr Benny Glover has worked in the community for 50 years and serves more than 2,022 patients.
So far the Health and Social Care Board has advised patients to stay registered at the practice and hang on until a solution is found. Negotiations to find a replacement are ongoing.
Councillor Maureen Morrow, who has been registered at the surgery all her life, says people are getting nervous about what comes next.
"The fact the board is telling people to stick with the surgery shows there is some optimism out there," she said.
"But I really hope they aren't giving us false hope. A lot of people depend on the service, and with us being such a rural community we don't have many options, so as the weeks go on people are getting more and more anxious.
"The nearest surgeries otherwise are at least 12 to 15 miles away, so for elderly or sick people or young mums with children - the people who need GPs most - this just won't be good enough.
"We're looking across Northern Ireland and don't know whether to be reassured by the fact we're not the only people with this crisis hanging over us, or to be even more worried."
Meanwhile, Co Fermanagh is facing similar problems with 30% of GPs in the county due to retire in the next two years.
Maguiresbridge Surgery closed in December after its long-serving GP retired, and 1,900 patients were redirected to a neighbouring practice.
Roslea Medical Practice, which serves 1,500 patients, is also in talks with the HSCB to secure a permanent contractor to take over after the long-term GP retired last June. It has been managed by a neighbouring practice in the interim.