Armagh city’s Out of Hours service has been closed a ‘staggering’ 64 times in the last five months.
That has forced SDLP Councillor Thomas O’Hanlon to call for a fundamental rethink of the system.
“The current GP Out of Hours system just simply isn’t working,” councillor O’Hanlon explained.
“Over recent months we have seen our health services across the north limp from crises to crises, be it trolley waits in Emergency Departments/A&E, ambulance response times or now the lack of cover for GP Out of Hours services.
“Whilst the crises in the likes of the Emergency Departments in Belfast or Craigavon are never out of the media spotlight, essential services such as the GP Out of Hours Service in Armagh is being sacrificed to prop up the same services in other areas.
“I don’t believe any of these issues can be taken in isolation. Visiting an Emergency Department / A&E should be the last resort, however visit these departments in Craigavon or at Daisy Hill, as I did personally last week, and you see people there who should be at their GP. The whole system, back to getting access to your local GP needs reviewed and reformed.
“Many of our GP Surgeries work on a 9-5 basis, and this proves very difficult for those working to get to visit their GP for routine appointments. This then has an impact on GP Out of Hours and A&E Services.
“We need to see more flexible opening hours in GP surgeries; every other health care worker from carers, nurses, ambulance drivers to hospital doctors work on a shift basis, surely this need to be looked at. I know this is an area the Patient Client Council looked at earlier this year so much is the concern about this issue right across the north.
“If people could get evening appointments with GP’s surely then a GP Out of Hours Service would not be needed, and this would take the strain of Emergency/A&E Departments.
“In places such as England they have ‘Walk in Centres’ which is your GP Surgery, it opens to late in the evening, and it provides X-rays and other support services, they prove both popular and effective.
“Everyone has a very different experience of GP Out of Hours, my own family had to call on the service a few weeks back and the service was second to none, the Doctor was there quickly, her care was fantastic but then I know of cases where it took almost five hours for the Doctor to come to a family home and their experience was horrendous with no care or compassion. The service is too patchy, too unreliable.
“The figures I have revealed this week from the Southern Trust show that the Out of Hours Base in Armagh has been closed a staggering 64 times since April.
“This means that if you needed a GP during those times and were deemed fit to go to a GP Centre, they you had to travel to Dungannon, Newry or Craigavon. If you need a GP to come to your home, then that GP would have to travel from Dungannon, Newry or Craigavon.
“This is all down to lack of GP Cover, lack of GPs engaging in the service.
“However the Southern Trust do tell me that the local GP’s here in Armagh and Keady are very supportive of the service and do more than their fair share of the shifts required, but if there is lack of cover in Craigavon or Newry then the GP’s from this area are pulled across to those areas to cover the same service as it is a ‘priority’ and as a consequence the Armagh base is closed. This simply isn’t good enough, other areas are given priority and we are the loser once again.
“We need to see an urgent rethink, this is not down to budgets or managing them, it’s back to how the whole service is designed and operated. I will be meeting with the Chief Executive of the Southern Trust and her team this week to press for changes, we cannot let this one go or the next thing we will be told is we are losing our Out of Hours Services too.”
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