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Town reaches GP ‘tipping point’ as 9,000-patient practice hands back contract

A 9,000-patient practice in Dungannon has been forced to hand back its contract to the Health and Social Care Board after the resignation of its three remaining GPs.

The BMA warned the potential closure of the practice could be the ‘tipping point’ in a town that has been on a knife edge for some time.

In a statement, the practice said this decision had not been taken lightly but they believe there is ‘no alternative’ but to walk away.

The Northland Surgery said it had been under pressure since the retirement of two doctors in the past year and felt it could no longer provide a safe service.

‘Despite all our best efforts we have been unable to recruit new GPs and the remaining three doctors have come to the conclusion that, with a growing list size, as patients continue to be allocated, and an increasing workload, they are no longer able to offer a safe and satisfactory service to patients,’ the practice statement said.

Local GP leaders had warned previously that GP practices in Dungannon were in a perilous state with practices under ‘enormous pressure’ and if one went, general practice in the whole town could collapse.

It had been hoped that recent investment in general practice and in primary care staff would help buy GP practices some breathing room.

The Health and Social Care Board confirmed the practice had given six months notice and they had put the contract, which ends in March 2019, out to tender.

A spokesperson said: ‘We are currently advertising for a replacement contractor for the practice.

‘We will be writing to patients shortly and asking them to remain registered with Northland Surgery in the meantime.

‘Patients of the practice who need GP care should continue to contact the practice as normal.’

The Board also said that the work of GPs across Northern Ireland has become more complex and challenging due to a number of issues. These included a growing and ageing population, an increase in long-term chronic conditions like diabetes, an aging GP workforce and changing expectations of younger doctors.

‘Many of today’s younger GPs say that full-time clinical work along with the responsibility of running a practice and employing staff, is making general practice a less attractive career and it is proving difficult therefore to recruit GP contractors at this time across Northern Ireland.’

BMA Northern Ireland GPC chair Dr Alan Stout said: ‘We have been aware of problems in Dungannon for some time and this is clearly now the tipping point.

‘We are still hoping there will be a new contractor but this appears unlikely and given the size of the practice it does make a merger difficult, and the other practices in the town are already under considerable pressure.’