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‘Nuisance calls’ putting Craigavon GP out-of-hours under severe pressures

Help sought with cold sores, hangovers and crosswords

A caller who rang a local GP out-of-hours station was looking for help to complete a crossword puzzle!

It is a service which is under extreme pressure but one which is being bombarded with inappropriate calls.

The GP out-of-hours at Craigavon has revealed they have had contact from people with cold sores and hangovers – and even some simply looking for paracetamol!

Newry and Armagh MLA Justin McNulty recently visited the Craigavon service when the extent of the problems which exist were revealed.

He has also again called for more investment in the GP out-of-hours and common sense from the general public in using the service for what it is intended.

Mr McNulty said he witnessed at first hand the professionalism and commitment of the team and the importance of the service in delivering frontline health care.

He said: “I am a strong supporter and advocate of the out-of-hours service and that’s why I am championing investment in the service locally.

“The GP out-of-hours service like every other part of our health service is under severe pressures, particularly in relation to staffing, and this originates from the lack of funding in training and recruitment.

“It’s a crucial service with dedicated doctors and support teams, however, because of the lack of funding they feel undervalued and under resourced. Medical indemnity costs for working in out-of-hours are also prohibitive, and in the UK the government have agreed to pay for that indemnity to encourage more doctors to undertake out-of-hours duties. Why not here too?”

Mr McNulty said he was “astonished” to learn of the number of inappropriate calls the service receives.

“These nuisance calls put further pressure on the service and create a backlog for genuine callers who are in urgent need of medical attention,” he added. “It is clear also that some mistakenly regard the service as an after-hours’ alternative to their local GP. People need to realise this important service is only for those issues that cannot wait until the local GP practice is open.

“We all have a duty to support GP out-of-hours by using the service wisely. The public need to take more responsibility by doing things like getting the flu jab or simply using community pharmacists.”

The MLA also spoke of “concerns within the service about the potential impact of Brexit on the existing and positive ‘Cooperating and Working Together’ (CAWT) Agreement that allows patients from South Armagh to use the Castleblayney base”.

He continued: “Having witnessed at first hand the work of the GPs and their support teams I have only admiration and respect for their professionalism, commitment and dedication to the service they provide.  I remain of the view that we need to see a resolution to the workforce planning issues within the service and this can only be addressed through funding.

“I also recognise that some bases may be closed temporarily while doctors are making home visits but I don’t believe it is acceptable to ask someone from Derrynoose or Crossmaglen to travel to Craigavon because the respective bases in Armagh or Newry are closed on a particular night.

“The entire concept is based around a service being close to the people at the point of need.

“I believe that the best way to offer stability in the service would be in a combination of additional funding in recruitment and training, and potentially recruitment of dedicated salaried GPs for the out-of-hours service.

“At present we are totally reliant on hard working GPs who’ve already done a day’s work in their own surgeries to operate the out-of-hours service. This is not sustainable in the long term.”

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