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Concern over ‘knock-on’ effect as 14th Northern Irish GP practice closes

Concern over ‘knock-on’ effect as 14th Northern Irish GP practice closes

Another Northern Irish GP practice will close next month leaving 4,000 patients to be reallocated to other nearby practices.

Last month, RCGPNI chair Dr Ursula Mason said around 30 practices in Northern Ireland were at risk of closure and receiving recovery support, which is almost 10% of the total 318 practices in the country.

And in February, a practice with 7,600 patients handed back its contract, which at the time made it the 13th to do so in the past year.

The current GP contractor for Kells and Connor Medical Practice resigned and ‘despite best efforts’ the Department of Health was unable to identify a new contractor to run the practice. 

According to the department, ‘all alternative options’ were ‘fully exhausted’ ahead of announcing the closure, but no solution was reached. 

The practice, which is near Ballymena in County Antrim, will close from 1 May and over the next few weeks patients will be issued information about their new GP practice allocation.

The closure of Kells and Connor Medical Centre is a ‘big, big problem’ which was ‘warned about over and over’, according to chair of GPC Northern Ireland Dr Alan Stout who responded to the news on Twitter.

He added: ‘The knock-on effect on the wider population and neighbouring practices will be significant and we are entering unsafe territory. 

‘Could a Minister/ executive have made a difference? Absolutely and indisputably yes.’

Pulse’s recent article on practice closures in Northern Ireland, which is part of the ‘State of devolved nations’ series, explored how the political situation is hampering progress for general practice, with Dr Stout saying the biggest problem is the ‘lack of any meaningful budget’. 

The country has been without a first or deputy first minister for over a year, the Executive Committee has not met and civil servants cannot make any ‘political’ decisions, only follow policies previously set by ministers.

A spokesperson for the Department of Health said they understand the closure of Kell and Connor GP practice is ‘not the news that patients of the practice were looking for and that it will cause concern and inconvenience in the local community’.

They added: ‘The Department acknowledges the ongoing and significant pressures on GP practices, stemming from the fact that demand for their services is outstripping current capacity to provide it.’

Patients have been advised not to register with another GP practice and to continue contacting Kell and Connor as usual until 30 April.