The lack of an Executive should not stop health officials from helping GPs who are faced with taking on thousands of extra patients in a matter of weeks, it has been claimed.
The Department of Health has failed to provide any assurance that GP services in the south west of Northern Ireland will not adversely impacted by the impending closure of Dromore and Trillick Surgery.
There are growing concerns the closure of the practice in Co Tyrone at the end of the month will lead to a domino effect, pushing already overstretched GP surgeries in surrounding areas to breaking point — potentially leaving thousands of patients unable to access a family doctor.
South West GP Federation has not yet received any of the tens of millions of pounds of funding that has been made available to help stabilise primary care services across Northern Ireland.
Almost £50m has been allocated to some GP federations to pay for the implementation of multi-disciplinary teams (MDTs) since 2018.
The MDT programme has been hailed as an important step in improving access to primary care services and outcomes for patients, as well as reducing GP workload.
The Belfast Telegraph asked the Department of Health why South West GP Federation has not yet received any MDT funding and when funding will be made available for the creation of multi-disciplinary teams.
It also asked why GP surgeries in the surrounding areas have not yet been informed of whether they will be expected to take on new patients following the closure of Dromore and Trillick Surgery, and what financial support is being made available to surrounding practices.
A Department of Health spokeswoman said: “Intensive efforts are continuing to secure a contractor to take over GP services at Dromore and Trillick practice.
“Dr Declan Morgan has been the sole contract holder for Dromore and Trillick Practice since July 1, 2020.
“His period of notice runs until June 30, 2022, and patients should continue to contact the practice as usual.
“The Department of Health is engaging with all stakeholders to explore all available avenues to maintain the practice.
“The Department has a statutory responsibility to ensure that all patients can access GP services, therefore if a contractor for the Dromore and Trillick Practice cannot be identified, the Department will have no option but to disperse patients registered with the Dromore and Trillick Practice to GP practices in the local area in order to ensure they can continue to access services.
“We would like to thank patients for their ongoing patience and support for staff during this period.”
In March, health minister Robin Swann announced South West GP Federation, which represents 20 general practices spanning Omagh and Fermanagh with a combined patient population size of more than 125,000, was to receive funding in the next swathe of awards.
This has not yet happened and it is understood the delay has been blamed on the lack of clarity over the NHS budget.
However, Sinn Fein MLA Colm Gildernew has said additional funding must be urgently secured to ensure other GP surgeries are not pushed to the brink of closure in coming months.
“This matter is not controversial, it’s not cross-cutting and the announcement was made before the collapse of the Assembly so I don’t see why the minister can’t make this funding available,” he said.
“The practices that will have to take on extra patients are already stretched to the limit, they aren’t in a good place to absorb additional patients, and that’s why the MDT funding is so important as the affected surgeries will get support from other health professionals.”
Under the MDT programme, a range of health professionals work alongside GP surgeries, including social workers, physiotherapists, pharmacists and nurses.