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Bannview Medical Practice: New GP contractor withdraws from contract

Jo-Anne Dobson: Health minister must clarify position of GP cover in the town

A GP contractor, who was due to take over at the troubled Bannview Medical Practice in Portadown, has withdrawn from the contract.

The Portadown practice, which serves more than 5,000 people in Co Armagh, has spent weeks in crisis after its last GP resigned.

Staff shortages were an issue as far back as two years ago, with the surgery hitting a crisis in August when a single doctor was left to cover 5,200 patients. Things came to a head last month when the final GP, Dr Shauna Heanen, resigned. She is due to leave on January 16.

Earlier this month the Health and Social Care Board (HSCB) said a GP contractor had been secured and it was thought they would take over in March. However, the GP has now withdrawn from the contract, according to the Department of Health.

Health Minister Michelle O’Neill said she was disappointed at the news.

Ms O'Neill said: "This is extremely disappointing news and I have asked for an urgent meeting with the HSCB to ensure that patients continue to receive safe and high quality healthcare.

"The HSCB will continue to manage the practice in the interim period until a new contractor is appointed. No decision has been made to close the practice and the HSCB will be writing to all patients to advise them of the current arrangements. I am very aware of the challenges facing general practice and I have committed to invest in primary care.

"The real progress that is being made through increasing GP training places to 111, the ongoing rollout of The Bannview Medical Practice is one of seven surgeries housed in Portadown Medical Centre."

Alliance Health spokesperson Paula Bradshaw MLA said the Health Minister is fully responsible for the current unacceptable pressures facing GPs and Primary Care centres right across the Northern Ireland.

Ms Bradshaw said: "I am aware that the British Medical Association and Royal College of General Practitioners have been continually raising the grave situation in the Portadown area, in this case with the Bannview Practice, since she came to office. The Health Minister has had eight months to intervene. It appears that her contribution just before Christmas came too little, too late.

"The pantomime politics of the last week, runs totally contrary to the empty pledges that the Health Minister repeated time and again in the Assembly Chamber over the last eight months. She has told the media that the public has 'no faith in the Institutions'.

"I feel that she has to bear a large burden of blame for the wider populace viewing Stormont as being incapable of providing good government for the people of Northern Ireland. Health is one area of government that should have been prioritised by the current Executive, yet clearly was not."

Ulster Unionist Upper Bann MLAs Jo-Anne Dobson and Doug Beattie called for immediate action from the Health Minister.

Portadown based MLA Doug Beattie MC said: "The Health Minister and the Health Board should have listened to the clear warning from the group of local GPs before Christmas. They made it clear that given the immense pressures already facing their lists, and in order to avoid a domino scenario, they were simply not in a position to take on any new patients.

"Having seemingly been brought to the precipice two weeks ago, the Board was forced into the position of temporarily providing locum GPs just to make sure Bannview remained open. Shortly after we were then told that a contractor had been secured. However, we were never told the details and now I suspect it was because the arrangement was not as firm as the Minister had suggested."

Upper Bann MLA Jo-Anne Dobson said: "Just before Christmas I recalled the Stormont Health Committee over this very issue – the imminent crisis of GP cover in Bannview Practice.  This was designed to ramp up pressure on the Department of Health, and force the Health and Social Care Board to act before it was too late.

"It is abundantly clear that their efforts have failed the people of Portadown given that one minute they tell us that a contractor has been ‘secured’ only shortly after to tell us that they have ‘withdrawn.’ This afternoon, immediately following the announcement of their withdrawal, I submitted an urgent oral question to compel the Sinn Fein Health Minister Michelle O’Neill to explain this situation to the public via the Assembly Chamber.

"For some time now my colleague Doug Beattie MLA and I have been working hard towards a resolution to this situation and will continue to hold the Board and the Minister to account. The patients of Bannview and the people of Portadown must not be used as a political football in the present spat between the Executive parties.  We remain as determined as ever to see a long-term solution put in place as a matter of urgency.

"In December I invited the Health Minister to come to Portadown and to meet directly with the GPs in the Medical Centre.  It is a matter of regret that the Minister has not responded to that request – made in good faith. However, it still stands and I once again urge her to listen and act."

Meanwhile SDLP health spokesperson Mark H Durkan MLA has said 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 today 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."

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