Armagh City’s GP Out of Hours service has been closed 43 times since January 1, it has been revealed.
The service across the entire Southern Trust has been closed, or had its hours reduced, on 67 occasions due to lack of GP cover since the beginning of the year.
SDLP Westminster candidate Justin McNulty has called on Health Minister Jim Wells to urgently address the issue.
“The real difficulty in accessing GP services is an issue which has been raised with me time and time again on the doorsteps and in particular the GP Out Of Hours Service,” said Mr McNulty.
“Last week we heard the BMA warn of the real stress and pressures on service and they warned it was on the verge of collapse. I have learned that the base in Armagh City has been closed to the public a staggering 43 times since the start of the year. This is very worrying and leaves very serious questions to be answered by the Health Minister.”
He added: “There has been a chronic lack of investment in GP services by the Northern Ireland Executive. They are not training enough GP’s and many of those who do train leave for other countries to practice or only work selected hours. Who can blame them given the lack of investment and support for the service here?”
“As I have gone from door to door, people have been raising very valid concerns about the lack of commitment to the service in Armagh. It appears that every time there are pressures in the system, Armagh is the first to have its service withdrawn.
“The Southern Trust has advised that the service is still operational; however they direct people to other locations in Dungannon or Newry. This is simply wrong, and they wonder why so many people are turning up to Accident and Emergency Departments needing treatment.”
“There needs to be a fundamental review of the service, we need to train more GP’s and the Out Of Hours Service needs to resourced property. It is not acceptable for the Southern Trust to withdraw draw the service from Armagh every time they cannot get cover elsewhere. There is a consistent attack on the health services in Newry and Armagh with the stroke unit in Daisy Hill Hospital and the Minor Injuries Unit in Armagh both facing closure, this has got to stop!”
However a spokesperson for the Trust, said: “Patients in the Armagh area continued to have access to the GP Out of Hours service by telephone advice, base appointments and home visits when necessary.
“Decisions to reduce the hours of opening the base is only taken when all avenues to secure cover have been exhausted.”
Regarding the situation across the entire South Trust region, the spokesperson, said: “The Trust continued to provide a range of GP OOHs service and any patient needing an appointment was seen at an alternative base.
“There are currently 142 GPs covering the out of hours rota. In addition to GPs, we currently have Triage Nurses who clinically assess patients over the phone and have two Advanced Nurse Practitioners who take consultations with patients who need a base appointment.
“The Trust is currently recruiting more nurses to work in the service. A more recent development is a pilot of Pharmacy Triage at the weekends provided by pharmacists who can advise people on medications problems.
“In addition, the Heatlh and Social Care Board has commissioned a GP Local Enhanced Service on a pilot basis from October 2014-March 2015 to provide GP input to an additional weekday evening rota in Craigavon OOHs base. This Enhanced Service has been aimed at encouraging GPs to work in the OOHs setting. The Trust will work with the Board to review the outcomes and impact of this pilot with a view to informing any Board decision over its future provision.
“At times of peak demand, there can be considerable pressure on the GP OOHs service so we remind people to think about the best service to meet their needs and always phone us first on 028 3839 9201.”
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