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Lisa Smyth

Swift and decisive action needed to stop decline of general practice

Lisa Smyth


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The news that Ravenbank Surgery is to close its doors in just over three months and the potential collapse of Antrim Road Medical Centre will be a blow to the new health minister

The news that Ravenbank Surgery is to close its doors in just over three months and the potential collapse of Antrim Road Medical Centre will be a blow to the new health minister

The news that Ravenbank Surgery is to close its doors in just over three months and the potential collapse of Antrim Road Medical Centre will be a blow to the new health minister

The news that Ravenbank Surgery is to close its doors in just over three months and the potential collapse of Antrim Road Medical Centre will be a blow to the new health minister.

While Robin Swann is riding high after securing a deal and bringing an end to crippling strike action by thousands of NHS workers, he is now facing a fresh workforce crisis.

Of course, GP shortages and resulting practice closures are nothing new. However, until now they have largely been happening in rural areas where it is traditionally more difficult to attract doctors to work.

The fact that it is becoming an issue in Belfast is alarming and has the potential to be catastrophic on services throughout the city.

The Health and Social Care Board (HSCB) advertised the contract for Ravenbank Surgery before Christmas.

Clearly this was unsuccessful.

Similarly, the partners at Antrim Road Medical Centre have spent more than three years trying to replace a colleague.

There are now a number of possible options - the HSCB finds another doctor to take on the contract and the practice is saved, no-one takes on the contract and the practice is closed, or the HSCB takes over the running of the surgery.

However, this final option is unlikely as the premises are owned by the current GPs.

As it stands, the closure of the practice is a realistic prospect and would have ripple effects throughout the city.

Neighbouring north Belfast surgeries would have to take on its 5,243 patients, as nearby practices of Ravenbank Surgery will take on its patients.

Unfortunately, this exacerbates the reasons why other GP surgeries have already collapsed.

GPs are overworked - an increasing amount of work was shifted into the community under Transforming Your Care, but funding didn't follow. Meanwhile, not enough GPs have been trained to cope with increasing demands on the service.

So, the doctors working in general practice have become stressed out and burnt out, resulting in a growing number walking away, either through early retirement, going to work in other areas of medicine, or even leaving Northern Ireland entirely.

This obviously places an even greater burden on the remaining GPs. So, while asking neighbouring surgeries to take on patients from collapsing practices might seem like a solution, it is a sticking plaster at best.

General practice is an intrinsic part of the health service and Mr Swann is going to have take swift and decisive action to stop its decline.

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