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Doctor set to quit over staff shortage persuaded to stay

By Victoria O'Hara

A GP who was set to resign over fears that staff shortages would endanger patient lives has said he will now remain at the practice after an 11th hour deal was struck with the health board.

Dr Patrick Fee had planned to leave the Rathkeeland House surgery in Crossmaglen after his partner leaves at the end of August.

The move would have left Dr Fee (57) with 3,500 patients after 24 years at the surgery.

He was unable to recruit another partner and had tendered his resignation, saying patient safety would be at risk if one doctor had to deal with such a big caseload.

This led to a public outcry with a 'Save Rathkeeland House Surgery' page on Facebook inundated with messages of support and personal recollections of how Dr Fee had delivered exceptional and unrivalled care to them and their families.

A petition with 3,500 signatures is due to be handed over today to Valerie Watts, chief executive of the Health and Social Care Board, by three Crossmaglen businessmen - Michael McArdle, Gerry Murray and John Nealon - on behalf of their community.

Last night Mr McArdle described Dr Fee as "one in a million, who goes beyond the call of duty".

While he welcomed the news Dr Fee was to stay on at the practice, he added: "Things have got too critical and it has come to this (petition) to get us listened too.

"The petition is very important and it's only the start of things.

"We are not going to let up and accept this level of health care anymore. Everything needs to be on a level par for patients, not just here in Crossmaglen and the area but everywhere throughout Northern Ireland."

A campaign continues to call for further improvements in local healthcare and a public meeting has been arranged in the village for tomorrow night.

Dr Fee (57) had voiced concerns he had not received adequate support from the local health authorities to recruit a full-time GP.

Last night, however, he revealed the deadlock was broken when he said he was "satisfied" with what the board had offered in terms of staff support.

"The practice was going towards closure or a board takeover, but I feel now that I would be supported to be in a position to provide safe treatment to the patients, where as prior to this I wasn't in that position," he said.

The HSCB said it would "assist" Rathkeeland House Surgery with its recruitment process to ensure permanent additional GP support is provided.

"We are to have meetings," he said. "My primary loyalty is to the practice and patients. What appeared to have been a deadlock is now not locked."

Dr Fee, whose father was also a GP, said there were still problems facing his practice and family doctors across Northern Ireland.

"I did not tender my resignation because I lost interest in general practice or because that is what I wanted to do. I resigned because there was no other safe professional choice that I could make," he said.

The BMA has warned up to 20 GP surgeries could face closure in the next 12 months.

BMA NI GPs committee chair Dr Tom Black said: "We have warned the Department of Health and the health board that the future of GP surgeries was under threat. There are 25% of GPs in Northern Ireland aged over 55. The combined effect of GPs retiring, leaving due to workload pressures, and younger doctors choosing not to become GPs, will leave general practice in crisis for our communities.

"We have been bitterly disappointed that any developments to address the problems of the huge workload pressures have been basically ignored."

In a statement a spokeswoman for the HSCB said: "The Health and Social Care Board can confirm Dr Patrick Fee has advised the board he is willing to resume his position as contractor on behalf of his Rathkeeland House Surgery and to continue as employer of the practice staff.

"The board will be continuing to assist Rathkeeland House Surgery with its recruitment process to ensure additional GP support is provided to the practice on a permanent basis.

"In the interim the board is in the process of securing Sessional (Locum) GPs to assist Dr Fee in providing General Medical Services support to the patients."

Belfast Telegraph


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