The Southern Health and Social Care Trust has confirmed its urgent care out of hours service will operate from only two bases across the Trust from this Friday (July 30).
The change will see the service temporarily close its Armagh, South Tyrone and Kilkeel centres until at least the end of August when the move will be reviewed.
The change will see the service centralise base appointments to two locations, Daisy Hill Hospital and Craigavon Area Hospital.
It is understood there has been significant pressure placed on the out of hours service, commonly referred to as the doctor on call, for the past three weeks and, at present, 80 per cent of the GP rota remains unfilled for the rest of the summer.
This shortfall is being addressed by the further deployment of nursing and pharmacy staff working in the service but with the pressures on the service, the contingency plan has been put in place to best manage the service with the staff available.
Typically, the urgent care out of hours service is a telephone service, offering advice and treatment to those patients with urgent medical symptoms that cannot wait until their own GP reopens.
It operates on week days from 6pm to 8am, weekends and bank holidays, through the phone line 028 3839 9201.
Confirming the changes, the Trust’s interim director of older people and primary care, Brian Beattie said the temporary change should only be noticed by those who have to travel for an appointment.
“Patients should always call first to access our team of GPs, pharmacists and nurses,” said Mr Beattie.
“Most people will receive telephone advice and a small number may require a home visit.
“With increasing demand right across health and social care and particularly unscheduled care services, the urgent care out of hours service has been experiencing significant pressures over the past number of weeks.
“Due to difficulties staffing rotas for the rest of the summer, we are centralising staff to our Daisy Hill and Craigavon Area Hospital sites until the end of August when we will review again.”
He continued: “We appreciate that this may cause some inconvenience for those patients who may need to travel further to a base, but these changes are needed to maintain the service as safely as we can for the whole area with our limited resources.
“We thank everyone for your understanding and co-operation as we work through these challenges.”
Only those with urgent medical symptoms that cannot wait until their GP surgery reopens should call the urgent care out of hours service on 028 3839 9201.
Anyone with potentially life threatening symptoms should go to the Emergency Department or call 999.
You can also use the NI symptom checker at https://www.nidirect.gov.uk/campaigns/illnesses-and-conditions