Protest planned as anger grows over 5,200 people left with no GP in Portadown
Patients at a crisis-hit GP surgery have disputed claims by the Health Minister that they were getting the best care possible after being told a new contractor had been confirmed - only for the deal to fall through.
Michelle O'Neill told the Assembly the Health and Social Care Board will continue to run Bannview Medical Practice until a new contractor is secured.
She also revealed one option involved the Southern Trust itself taking on the contract for the Portadown clinic, which would mean GPs employed at the practice losing their independence.
Tony Hendron, who is diabetic and has been registered at Bannview for more than 40 years, said a protest cancelled earlier this month is now back on.
"We should have called the first protest. We organised a rally, because back then people were concerned," said Mr Hendron. "But this one on Friday will most definitely be a protest because not only are people concerned, they are angry.
"When I suggested we reschedule the protest, more than 100 people came back to me saying yes."
The difference, according to Mr Hendron, is that Bannview's 5,200 patients feel they are not hearing the whole story from officials, and can see no end in sight.
"The basic fact here is they've known this crisis was coming for a long time and did nothing about it," he claimed.
"Then, as we got ready to hold a public protest, they released a statement to say the whole thing was fixed and a contractor was in place. We know now that hasn't worked out - we don't even know if it was nailed down in the first place - so they got people's hopes up needlessly, only to be left with this confusion and disappointment.
"The fact the minister has now said the board will carry on running things to give us the best care possible is nonsense."
Ulster Unionist health spokeswoman Jo-Anne Dobson agreed that anger was growing in the Co Armagh town.
Mrs Dobson said: "This is an extremely desperate situation with public concern in Portadown turning to very real public anger.
"In response, the minister can only point to interim arrangements rather than give any concrete assurances around a permanent solution."
DUP MLA Carla Lockhart commented: "It is highly disappointing that a solution to the GP problem at Bannview has now fallen through.
"This is worrying for the 5,000 patients that attend the clinic and seek medical treatment there."
The Health and Social Care board said: "The board is now continuing to manage the practice in the interim period until a new contractor is appointed.
"We will continue to work diligently to secure another permanent contractor to take over, and are exploring other options including the Southern Health and Social Care Trust taking on the contract."