Almost 6,000 GP Out of Hours shifts have gone unfilled in Southern Trust area in the last three years.
The figures revealed by the Health Minister has result in calls for an an urgent rethink on the GP Out Of Hours Service.
SDLP MLA Justin McNulty tabled the request for figures after one evening where no doctors were available in the area.
“Our health service is under extreme pressure no matter where you look,” said Mr McNulty.
“Thousands are suffering in pain or in worry on waiting lists for everything from surgery, mental health services to waiting for an Autism Assessment.
“People are struggling to get a GP appointment and our Emergency Departments are at capacity on a regular basis.”
The Newry and Armagh representative said he is constantly contacted by constituents raising concerns about accessing the GP Out of Hours Service.
“Many complain of long waits for a call back whilst others say they end up directed to go to the Emergency Departments in Craigavon or Daisy Hill and yet we’re advised to stay away from them too as they are at breaking point as well,” he added.
“There is something fundamentally wrong with the service when people cannot access it when they need it.
“In recent weeks I was advised that there were no doctors available in a location one evening so I tabled an Assembly Question of Minister Swan and was gobsmacked at the extent of the problem. In the last three years 5,968 shifts in the GP Out Of Hours Service have gone unfilled.
“This is astonishing and explains why it is so difficult to get access to the service. It is also fundamentally unfair on those GP’s and other health care staff who work the service. They are under extreme pressure trying to prioritise those to see and those to refer to their GP or Emergency Departments.
“I raised my concerns during a recent meeting with the Chief Executive of the Southern Trust, but, fundamentally, more must be done to address the problem system wide.
“We cannot boast about a world-class health service when people cannot get to see a GP day or night, they struggle to access mental health services and they wait years on routine surgery. Things must change and it must happen now.”
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