A Newry, Mourne and Down councillor is calling for an out-of-hours GP service to be re-opened amid mounting concerns over Strep A.
The call comes in the wake of the death of five-year-old Stella-Lily McCorkindale who passed away after contracting the bacterial infection.
DUP rep Henry Reilly has been calling for the Kilkeel service to be re-instated after the Southern Health Trust closed three of its urgent out of hours GP services at Kilkeel, Armagh and south Tyrone at the end of July.
The Trust has now confirmed that the urgent out of hours service is currently “under review” but that the health service is “experiencing increasing demand and significant pressures across health and social care”.
Dozens of children at a Kilkeel primary school are currently suffering from Strep A bacterial infections, including cases of Scarlet fever. Brackenagh West PS principal, Michael Peacock confirmed this week that two pupils have now been hospitalised.
In a media briefing on Tuesday (Dec 6), the director of the Public Health Agency, Dr Joanne McClean advice, said: “Anyone who thinks they or a child may have it (Strep A) should contact a GP for a diagnosis and appropriate treatment.”
Calls to reopen the out of hours GP service were made last month by Councillor Reilly when he pressed a senior Trust official during a special meeting of Newry, Mourne and Down District Council.
The Southern Trust, director of adult community services, Brian Beattie told Cllr: “There is good access to Daisy Hill hospital for Kilkeel people in times of difficulty.”
However, DUP Newry, Mourne and Down District councillor Henry Reilly has expressed his increasing frustration at the continued out of hours shut down as he says a “Strep A epidemic” has now hit Northern Ireland.
He added: “This is a matter of urgency and what we have found is that despite repeated requests to reopen the out of hours GP service it has fallen on deaf ears and we now find ourselves in a surge of scarlet fever and Strep A, with children’s health and lives at risk.
“I have had many worried parents contacting me saying that they just can’t get through to a GP, which is leaving them sick with worry. When a mother’s instinct tells her, her child is not well, they are normally right and that makes them even more concerned when they can’t get in contact with a doctor.
“I have made it known to the council and the Southern Trust that there are doctors who I have been in contact with who would be willing to open the out of hours service in Kilkeel. At this time we have concerned parents worried sick who are made to wait over 24 hours for a phone call back from their GP and that is simply just not good enough.
“There is also the fear that there are so many antibiotics being sent out over this that we could run out of them in Northern Ireland. The fact is that I have been asking for the out of hours service to reopen for some time now, and we now find ourselves in a possible epidemic crisis with the essential out of hours still closed.
“I am asking for the Southern Trust to meet NMDDC as a matter of urgency.”
The local democracy service asked the Southern Trust if it would now look to reopen the out of hours service in Kilkeel and other areas within the trust area.
A spokesperson said: “We are working with our colleagues in the Public Health Agency to respond to an increase in notifications of Scarlet Fever and Strep A in the community. We have not received an invitation to meet Newry Mourne and Down District Council yet but always welcome their support in addressing any local issues.
“Parents should remain vigilant of the symptoms and if they are concerned, seek advice from their local pharmacy or GP in the first instance. If you feel you cannot wait until their GP surgery reopens, during the out of hours period, patients should contact the Urgent Care Out of Hours service (Tel: 028 3839 9201) to access our team of GPs, nurses, pharmacists and call handlers.
“Most patients are triaged through telephone advice, some may be referred to another service, others will be given a face to face base appointment and a small number will receive a home visit.
“Due to staffing difficulties in covering rotas and to safely maintain the service for the whole area, the Urgent Care (GP) Out of Hours Service consolidated base appointments to the Daisy Hill and Craigavon Area hospital sites from late July 2021.
“Staff have been allocated to help us to respond to all aspects of the service, telephone support, base appointments and home visits, for patients from across the entire Southern Trust area.
“We would like to reassure patients that the closure of the Kilkeel base has not resulted in any change for the majority of patients who receive telephone triage and advice and for those who require a home visit. Following the consolidation of the five bases to two, the amount of hours filled by GPs has increased gradually over the past year.
“We have also been able to offer more base appointments and home visits for patients living in the Kilkeel area during this time. Whilst we keep staffing for the Urgent Care Out of Hours Service under review, we are continuing to experience increasing demand and significant pressures across health and social care.”
Health Trust Advice to Parents
– Phone First for Emergency Department or Minor Injuries Services
– Patients who are unwell with urgent, but not immediately life threatening symptoms who think they may need ED or minor injuries services should ‘Phone First’ between 9am and 9pm Monday to Friday on: 0300 123 3 111.
– The team will advise on the most suitable service, arrange an appointment with minor injuries if needed or give you a referral code if you do need to attend ED.