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Six Northern Ireland surgeries write to DH after another closure

Six Northern Ireland surgeries write to DH after another closure

Six GP surgeries in Northern Ireland have written to the Department of Health to raise serious concern over the risk of closure of yet another practice.

Maphoner Surgery in Mullaghbawn, County Armagh has handed back its contract meaning it will be without a GP at the end of June unless a solution is found.

This will leave more than 5,000 patients without a doctor. The surrounding six practices say they are unable to take the pressure if the practice closes and patients are redistributed to them.

Three of the six surgeries that signed the letter are run by a single GP and say they are already struggling to meet current demand.

Maphoner is just one of 15 surgeries in Northern Ireland to hand back their contracts this year, with eight of these still seeking a new contractor.

Dr Alan Stout, co-chairman of the BMA’s GP committee in Northern Ireland, said there are grave concerns about the impact because all practices in Northern Ireland are ‘stretched to the absolute limit’.

‘Our greatest fear is a domino effect. If there’s one practice closure and then there’s a knock on effect on other practices you could end up with two, three, four of those potentially closing as well. Because they just can’t manage the workload and the stress,’ he added.

The Department of Health said it was ‘working extensively to ensure the continuation of GP services for the local community in Mullaghbawn’. It is in discussions with potential contractors to take over the current contract for Maphoner Surgery from 1 July.

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

Kilkeel Medical Practice in County Down was the most recent surgery to hand back its notice after running an ‘unsustainable’ workload with ‘half the workforce of three years ago’, according to its notice online.

In March this year, chair of the RCGP NI Dr Ursula Mason warned that around 30 practices were at risk of closure and receiving recovery support, which is almost 10% of the total number.

The problem stems from an aging workforce with a third of GPs aged over 55, said Dr Stout.

‘The number one problem is we don’t have enough GPs. And there are not enough younger GPS coming through, even though we’ve increased training numbers. But also when we see the pressures at the moment younger doctors aren’t willing to take the risk of taking on partnerships. It almost becomes self perpetuating because the more practices we see in difficulty, the less likely people are to take a risk,’ he added.

The practices for which a GP contractor is yet to be found and the date the current contract ends:

  • Dr Graham’s Surgery, Cookstown (30th April 2023)
  • Bernaghmore Medical Practice, Ballymena (31st May 2023)
  • Maple Healthcare Practice Lisnaskea, Co Fermanagh (31st May 2023) 
  • Racecourse Practice, Derry/Londonderry (31st May 2023)
  • Maphoner Surgery, Newry (30th June 2023)
  • Bridge Street Family Practice, Derry/Londonderry (31st July 2023)
  • Brookeborough and Tempo Practice, Fermanagh (31st August 2023)
  • Kilkeel Medical Practice (31st October 2023)

Updated April 6 by SPPG