Help on way for crisis-hit surgery, says Minister
Health Minister Michelle O'Neill has announced that a new GP contract provider has been found for under-pressure surgery Bannview Medical Practice.
The Portadown practice, which serves more than 5,000 people in Co Armagh, has spent weeks in crisis after its last GP resigned.
It had been estimated that keeping the surgery open with locum doctors would cost £500 per day, but last night the Health Minister confirmed a new provider would be in place from March.
"Until then, the Health and Social Care Board will continue to ensure that patients of the Bannview Practice have access to GP services," said Mrs O'Neill.
A protest planned for today has now been cancelled.
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.
In a moving letter presented to the Stormont Health Committee before Christmas, Dr Heanen wrote: "On the day when I had to admit that I couldn't cope any more I had done 40-50 phone calls to patients, two over-full surgeries which kept growing in number as more patients phoned, three house calls, 200 acute scripts, 150 blood results, hospital letters and then a range of phone calls to various allied health professionals.
"I left work in tears that day - I hadn't slept in four to five days, couldn't remember the last time I could eat a proper meal and couldn't concentrate. I have been left as the 'last man standing'.
Patient Tony Hendron, who campaigned for better services, said: "While the use of locums is not ideal, we hope that the emergency appointments only will be dropped forthwith.
"Furthermore, I and most patients would hope that if at all possible, Dr Shauna Heanen could be included in the line up of doctors in the new practice."
Upper Bann DUP MLA Sydney Anderson welcomed the news.
He added: "It is now imperative that the long term security of GP provision at Bannview and in Portadown Health Centre is established."