Health bosses facing uphill battle to staff three GP surgeries in Northern Ireland
Health bosses have advertised for GPs to take over three surgeries in Northern Ireland in recent weeks, the Belfast Telegraph can reveal.
It is understood two further practices have recruitment processes to find GP partners, as primary care in Northern Ireland slips deeper into crisis.
In March, the Health & Social Care Board advertised for a GP willing to take over Rathkeeland House Surgery in Crossmaglen.
It is now advertising the General Medical Services (GMS) contract to run primary care services at Roslea Medical Practice in Enniskillen and Silverbirch Medical Practice in Bangor.
The three surgeries have almost 8,000 people on their practice lists.
A senior GP warned the board may find it hard to recruit GPs willing to take on the contracts.
Dr Brian Patterson, who is part of a task force working to help struggling GP surgeries, said: "Sadly, I can't magic up trained GPs, nor folk who want to run practices, as they are small business. These are short term issues but in the long term the model of general practice will have to change to survive."
A large proportion of GPs across Northern Ireland are at or approaching retirement age, while there has been a shortage in the number of trainee places.
Experienced GPs are also leaving due to working conditions and it is increasingly difficult for practices to find doctors to take jobs in GP practices, particularly in rural areas.
According to the board's advertisement for Silverbirch Medical Practice, the sole GP who works there, Dr Nigel Majury, plans to retire next year.
Dr Patrick Fee, the GP at Rathkeeland, has repeatedly said he does not feel he can deliver a safe service due to the number of patients he is responsible for.
He had announced his intention to leave the practice last year, citing patient safety. Dr Fee failed to recruit a partner after his colleague left for a new job.
Dr Patterson said: "General practice has lost its mojo for young doctors. Too much work, too few doctors and chronic underfunding from the department are all issues. If general practice fails, the rest of the NHS will struggle like never before.
A board spokeswoman said it continues to take all necessary steps to ensure that services continue to be provided to the population of Northern Ireland.