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Northern Ireland doctors' practice left with no GPs

By Sophie Inge

As controversy raged over a heating scheme at Stormont on Monday, the health committee held an emergency meeting to discuss another crisis - Northern Ireland's chronic shortage of family doctors.

Bannview GP Practice in Portadown Health Centre currently has no GPs due to sickness, resignations and maternity leave, with coverage provided by locum doctors.

Health officials have confirmed that they are currently in negotiations with a GP contractor to take over the practice, but said that the situation in Portadown was "very fluid".

Monday's meeting was called at the request of Upper Bann MLA Jo-Anne Dobson in a bid to resolve the crisis.

She said: "Over many months there has been significant and mounting pressure at Bannview practice, and with 5,200 local patients affected, this issue needs to be urgently resolved to ensure that this crisis does not spill over to the other 45,000 patients linked with the practices at Portadown Health Centre."

She added: "While I appreciate the ongoing talks which the board are having with a GP contractor to potentially take over the practice, I questioned officials on how they will ensure that the patients are put first, and how they will ensure that adequate GP coverage will be in place as urgently as possible, in the interests of public health.

"Leaving one GP to cope alone with the healthcare of over 5,000 patients, as happened in October, is absolutely unacceptable for that GP, and also for the healthcare of local patients."

Dr Tom Black, chair of the British Medical Association's NI General Practitioners Committee, said: "We welcome the fact that this meeting was called as it is a sign that the Assembly is taking the escalating crisis in general practice seriously.

"But we now need urgent action to address this situation, as the issues highlighted in Portadown are affecting surgeries across many parts of Northern Ireland."

The meeting comes after hundreds of GPs in Northern Ireland signed undated resignation letters to the NHS.

"We've never seen a crisis in general practice and in the NHS like this since 1948," Dr Black said.

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