Care of 3,500 patients at risk as GP decides to quit over workload
The care of more than 3,500 patients was plunged into chaos after a GP said he planned to stand down over his huge workload.
Dr Patrick Fee is to resign his contract to provide services at Rathkeeland House Surgery in Crossmaglen at the end of June.
Health bosses have now advertised the contract to run primary care services at the Co Armagh practice.
However, a top doctor warned they would find it difficult to find a replacement for Dr Fee.
"This is the perfect storm we have been warning about," said Dr Tom Black, chair of the British Medical Association's GP committee in Northern Ireland.
Dr Fee's resignation from the contract to provide general medical services is the latest blow for the 3,750 patients registered at the practice.
He first announced his intention to leave last year, citing concerns for patient safety.
Dr Fee said he had failed to recruit a partner after his colleague left for a new job. The family doctor added he was unable to deal with such an enormous caseload by himself, but in August he announced his intention to remain after receiving assurances from the Health and Social Care Board (HSCB) that they would provide assistance.
The HSCB is the body responsible for overseeing the provision of GP services in Northern Ireland.
A HSCB spokeswoman last night said the board was advertising for a new GP contractor to take over after Dr Fee leaves on June 30. She added the board expects to know the outcome of the process by the end of May.
According to the advertisement, the board is seeking a contractor to provide 16 GP sessions each week. This means two GPs will be required.
Doctors have warned it may be impossible to find even one GP willing to work at the practice. Dr Black said: "Given the difficulties geographically and the fact that we have so few doctors in Northern Ireland, the board will struggle to fill the vacancy with a new contractor. We have already expressed concerns that there could be up to 20 practices collapse in Northern Ireland this year. The areas we are most concerned about are Armagh, Fermanagh and Tyrone.
"We have a large number of GPs over 55 planning to retire and we're not recruiting enough as replacements.
"The real concern is that young GPs don't appear willing to take on small rural practices, and this is related to the heavy workload and inadequate funding.
"In the event that the board is unable to find a replacement for the contract at Rathkeeland, we would be encouraging a merger with local practices to take on the patients."
The only other GP practice in Crossmaglen has one doctor working full-time.
It is understood that it would not be possible for it to take on the full practice list from Rathkeeland House Surgery.