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Portadown: GPs rally as pressures spread to nearby town

In our ‘Postcards from the edge’ series, Pulse investigates where general practice is on the brink of collapse. Emma Wilkinson reports from Portadown in Northern Ireland

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Portadown

Portadown landed the dubious honour of being Northern Ireland’s only town with an APMS-contracted practice last year.

Bannview Medical Centre was taken over by the Southern Health and Social Care Trust in 2016 and, in order to allow the trust to take responsibility permanently, the Southern Health Board was awarded the APMS contract in 2017.

The 5,200-patient practice had lost all four of its GPs in a short space of time, one of whom later described the ‘unbearable pressures’ that had led to her resignation in an open letter to patients. GP leaders said the other five local practices could not take on more patients.

But following increased collaborative working between the remaining practices, Dr Frances O’Hagan, Southern LMC chair, says while the situation in Portadown is still not safe, it is for the moment stable.

‘One of the practices agreed to take on around 1,500 hundred additional patients…but now [it] is on the edge’

Dr Frances O’Hagan

‘The GPs have rallied round to keep everything going. There are still lots of pressures but they have been able to sustain their practices,’ she says.

However, while Portadown has found some room to breathe, another nearby town, Dungannon, has found itself on the brink after a series of retirements.

‘There are five practices in the town [Dungannon]- one single-handed practice, which closed, and four partnerships of varying sizes,’ says Dr O’Hagan.

‘One of the practices agreed to take on around 1,500 hundred additional patients after the single-handed practice could not find anyone to take it over, and the other 600 patients were spread around the others.

‘But now the practice that took on the extra patients is on the edge,’ she adds.

The two other large practices are now down to three GPs, leaving a ratio of one doctor to 3,000 patients, she says.

‘They are under enormous pressure and it is very, very difficult.

’There is no give any more, no reserve, nothing that will allow us to plug those gaps’

Dr Frances O’Hagan

‘You can see that if one or more doctors go it will be disastrous. There is no capacity for any practice to take on an extra 9,000 patients,’ says Dr O’Hagan.

‘There is no give any more, no reserve, nothing that will allow us to plug those gaps,’ she warns.

Several federations in the southern region are considering bidding for pilot funding for expansion of multidisciplinary teams, but there is no quick fix, she adds.

‘We need an awful lot more GPs and we have known that for years, but they are not coming through the system,’ says Dr O’Hagan.

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Readers' comments (4)

  • My heart goes out to GPs and patients there. I hope there are lessons learned that save the many other places all over the UK that now teeter close to the brink of collapse. Maybe the administrative and regulatory burden could be reviewed and lightened? Hostile management and Westminster undermining the grass roots do not help. BMA/ RCGP are not as constructively supportive as one could hope. Unfunded work transfer from Hospitals to GPs is another key issue.

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  • Jeremy Hunt's promised 5000 new whole time GPs: Only 6100 to go.

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  • My experience of NI GPs on a recent visit reflects a group of highly committed, compassionate and hard working men and women let down by the system. The fact that Stormont is not sitting is a recent phenomenon. NI GPs have had a long history of being neglected and if measures (low cost as well) had been put in place , many moons ago, none of this would be happening. I realise the rest of the UK is under massive pressure but NI GPs are in a situation now that will be soon facing the rest.

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  • They have 1.5 billion to spend on burning pellets up in smoke, a spend Stormont was apparently too busy to see and no one knew that if you give £1.69 for every £1 spent burning pellets, everyone would be burning pellets night and day, willy nilly. I know, they cannot be that stupid. If not stupid, what then?
    But that is where the public money has gone, so parents have to subsidize schools, children suffer and patients have to wait years for operations.

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