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13 GP practices to close in single county

Exclusive Plans are underway to close 13 of the 18 GP practices in Fermanagh, Northern Ireland, leaving patients having to travel '30 to 40 miles' to see their GP, the GPC has warned.

The proposals are under development with two practices already having closed recently, and four more closing in the next few months.

This is worse than had been previously feared, when it was reported that a third of the practices in the county would close, due to the retirement of potentially a third of the 66 GPs in the rural region.

With no GPs available to fill the slots, it has been predicted that three-quarters of Fermanagh’s practices will close within five years.

It comes as Pulse has reported that the Northern Ireland GPC will ask practices to quit the NHS in the New Year as the situation in Northern Ireland has reached a critical point in recent months with the threat of whole towns losing their GPs and out of hours services failing to provide proper cover.

Dr Tom Black, chair of the Northern Ireland GPC, said the situation in Fermanagh is even worse than other counties in Northern Ireland.

He said: 'We are trying to consolidate 18 practices into five so there will be five practices across the whole county.

‘Patients will be travelling 30 to 40 miles to see their GP. There will be an effort to maintain some of the practices as branch surgeries but it is very difficult as there are no GPs.’

Dr Black said the move to just five practices would be a gradual process.

‘We are already down from 18 to 16 and three or four more will close in the next few months,’ he said. ‘The practices want us to find them more GPs and more district nurses but they are in very short supply.’

He added that despite dire shortages across the country, there was an argument that Fermanagh was in greatest need and more needed to be done to attract GPs to the region.

‘We’re hoping over the next few months to bring in practice pharmacists, but getting more GPs and nurses will take much longer.’

Fermanagh has faced particular problems with recruiting new GPs to take over single-handed rural practices.

The GPC had previously said the staffing crisis in the region had ‘caught them unawares’ as many of the GPs were older and retiring at the same time.

A spokesperson for the Northern Ireland Health and Social Care Board said: 'The Health and Social Care Board is continuing to work with GP practices in the Fermanagh area and to encourage them to form larger partnerships so that practices are in a stronger position to attract more GPs into the area and continue to provide general medical services to residents in the long term.

'Discussions are currently ongoing with two groups of GP practices which will ensure services continue to be provided to patients in their own surgeries.

'The Board believes that the way forward for a sustainable model for provision of GP services in the area is through the formation of such networks, which would provide both high quality clinical care and an attractive proposition for young newly qualified GPs to come and work in the rural Fermanagh area.'

Pulse has been calling for emergency support to be made available to preserve practices on the brink through its Stop Practice Closures campaign.

Picture credit: Fermanagh Lakelands

Readers' comments (23)

  • "encourage them to form larger partnerships so that practices are in a stronger position to attract more GPs into the area"


    So federations are attractive to young GPs.

    M'kay.....

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  • Pay them and they will come.

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  • More nonsense. GP practices with small uneconomic lists of patients are liable to close because the income is unsuitable for replacement GPs to apply for these practices when vacancies occur. It would be better if the Commissioner offered large practices money for an additional partner to share work at the main surgery and to staff the small branch surgery. Offering the larger practice nice up to date premises for the branch practice would help. the Board are talking a lot of flannel about providing high quality care. It cannot be provided without investment.

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  • Paul, thank you for your insight!
    So you advocate a different funding model for "large" practices to add partners?
    I think m'learned friends would enjoy that!
    Oh, and "nice up to date premises" also for larger practices "would help".
    Do new buildings create qualified GPs??
    Your comment shows little understanding of how things actually work or are working.

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  • Simple. The DOH has planned this and wanted this to happen. They do not care one jot if patients have GPs or not. If you value something you feed and nurture. If you want something to wither and die you starve it.
    So, just cut funding year on year, pile on more work and everyone who is sane will leave.
    Easy. Funding has been cut by 50% to 5.5% [was 11] and workloads have gone up 50% [ consultations up from 4 to 6 ], all in about 10 years.
    GPs see 90% of all NHS consults on 5.5% and they want more work done in the community.
    Well, I know we GPs are a thick lot, but even we can see this writing on the wall.
    It is the DOH plan, so people have to take out private insurance.

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  • I was born in Fermanagh and love the county...... I always dreamed I'd live and work there one day...... I still love the place and would love to go back but there is simply no way I'd return to the NHS in Northern Ireland doing general practice. However, if there's anyone from the health board reading (Though I doubt it) If you can match the T+Cs of Australia then give me a call! (Im not holding my breath)

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  • With patients when we reach a certain point, we know further intervention is futile. Is General practice now Palliative in Fermanagh? Perhaps we need to just quietly walk away and let the patients and politicians figure it out. Let them work out what we were worth..... I really do think we need to let the system implode as long term there is more suffering keeping the current system alive

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  • Mr Mephisto

    "The Health and Social Care Board is continuing to work with GP practices in the Fermanagh area and to encourage them to form larger partnerships so that practices are in a stronger position to attract more GPs into the area and continue to provide general medical services to residents in the long term".

    Good luck with that one our “Inglorious Political Masters”.

    The HSCB are useless. They literally could not organise a p*ss up in a brewery. They have no useful advice. No helpful guidance. No resources to offer - nothing absolutely nothing. They seem to be unwilling or unable to help.

    If I worked for the HSCB I would be frankly embarrassed and shamed by my powerlessness and inability to help offering nothing more than “tea and sympathy”.

    I am not sure if the HSCB’s “Inglorious Political Masters” have truly taken on board the fact that the service is on the point of collapse.

    I am being favourable to the politicians as given the current health ministers socialist political background unlike Jeremy Hunt I doubt that she wants to collapse the NHS on purpose.

    The current health minister may not have been the one who steered the ship into the iceberg however she is at the wheel now and the ship is sinking.

    If the ship does sink then she will always be remembered as the one in charge when the ship sank.

    Just as Tony Blair will always be remembered for The Iraq War the current health minister will be remembered for allowing the NHS to sink on her watch.

    It is ironic that Tony Blair’s great political achievement “The Good Friday Agreement” was borne out on these shores however his political reputation has been destroyed by the toxic legacy of Iraq.

    There may be a learning lesson for the health minister here – you will always be remembered for your political failures not your political successes and all ultimately all political careers end in disaster

    It is ironic that the Titanic was built in Belfast and we have another Titanic melodrama playing out in our health service.

    The ship is sinking and there are not enough lifeboats to save everyone.

    Knowing how our political system works in Northern Ireland (deaf dumb and blind as opposed to Westminster’s severe case of myopia) as the Titanic finally sinks under the waves we will have a prayer meeting led by the Rev William McCrea where the whole Northern Ireland Assembly can hold hands and sing “Abide with me” whilst hoping for some kind of deliverance for a higher power – unfortunately Westminster can bail them out this time – you are on your own you “Inglorious Political Masters”

    Perhaps a more appropriate song would be Joni Mitchell’s Big Yellow Taxi - “ Don't it always seem to go
    That you don't know what you got 'til it's gone, They paved paradise and put up a parking lot”

    They will miss us when we are gone!

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  • Mr Mephisto

    What about Portadown - will it be next?

    Portexit anyone?

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  • Hey Dr Mephisto, theres a job in St Helens Tasmania (2000 people roughly, great fishing, great climate) going....packaged up over £200k/Yr... we could be neighbours?

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