Two GP surgeries in Northern Ireland will be run by a healthcare trust, after failing to find new doctors to run them.
In August last year, the current GP partners at Priory Surgery in Holywood, which incorporates Springhill Surgery in Bangor, announced that they would be handing back their contract to health bosses at the beginning of this year.
The practices, which together provide GP services for almost 15,000 patients, said they would stop providing General Medical Services from 1 February, should no new doctors be found.
Now the Department of Health has confirmed that the South Eastern Health and Social Care Trust – which acute and community hospitals as well as providing social care – has agreed to take on the contract for both surgeries following negotiation.
A spokesperson for the Department of Health said: ‘Under this new temporary arrangement, which will take effect from 1 February 2023, the trust will work with the Department to secure ongoing locum GP cover for the practice.
‘It follows extensive work to identify a new GP contractor to take over the practice, following the resignation of the current GP Partners.
‘Patients do not need to take any action. Patients of the practice can be assured that its services will continue under the new arrangement.’
Roisin Coulter, chief executive of the South Eastern Health and Social Care Trust, said: ‘We understand this is a very worrying time for patients belonging to the Priory and Springhill GP practices.
‘The trust will continue to work very closely with our GP and Department of Health colleagues to minimise disruption and ensure continuity of essential GP services for patients.’
Dr Alan Stout, BMA NI GP committee chair, said this was yet another example of ‘the perilous state that general practice in Northern Ireland is in.’
He said: ‘This practice was in trouble many months ago. An enthusiastic new contractor did express an interest in taking on the practice but realised it would be impossible to get enough GPs to work there with them to meet the workload.
‘The current funding structures where the amount GPs get per patient has not increased sufficiently also contributed to their decision to decline taking the practice over.
‘We need to urgently resolve our workforce crisis and ensure that general practice has a sustainable future; we need to address the indemnity issue, stabilise the workload and move away from the narrative that GPs are working ‘part time’ or are closed to patients when GPs across Northern Ireland are doing the very best they can to meet demand.
‘The trust taking on a contract like this is an emergency measure and cannot be seen as the future of general practice. We will work closely with them to try to ensure an alternative solution.’
The Southern Health and Social Care Trust was awarded the first-ever APMS contract in Northern Ireland in 2017, when it took on the contract for the Bannview Medical Centre.
Last summer, BMA NI chair Dr Tom Black warned that 22 GP practices in Northern Ireland were at risk of closure due to increased demand and loss of doctors. The Department of Health did not comment on how many practices were being assisted by the department’s ‘crisis team’ in December.
According to Department of Health figures, there were 319 active GP practices in Northern Ireland at 31 March 2022, a fall of just under 9% compared with the 350 active in 2014. Meanwhile, its figures also said the number of GPs (excluding locums) increased by 20% to 1,419 over the same period.