Exclusive Plans are underway to close 13 of the 18 GP practices in Fermanagh, Northern Ireland, leaving patients having to travel ’30 to 40 miles’ to see their GP, the GPC has warned.
The proposals are under development with two practices already having closed recently, and four more closing in the next few months.
This is worse than had been previously feared, when it was reported that a third of the practices in the county would close, due to the retirement of potentially a third of the 66 GPs in the rural region.
With no GPs available to fill the slots, it has been predicted that three-quarters of Fermanagh’s practices will close within five years.
It comes as Pulse has reported that the Northern Ireland GPC will ask practices to quit the NHS in the New Year as the situation in Northern Ireland has reached a critical point in recent months with the threat of whole towns losing their GPs and out of hours services failing to provide proper cover.
Dr Tom Black, chair of the Northern Ireland GPC, said the situation in Fermanagh is even worse than other counties in Northern Ireland.
He said: ‘We are trying to consolidate 18 practices into five so there will be five practices across the whole county.
‘Patients will be travelling 30 to 40 miles to see their GP. There will be an effort to maintain some of the practices as branch surgeries but it is very difficult as there are no GPs.’
Dr Black said the move to just five practices would be a gradual process.
‘We are already down from 18 to 16 and three or four more will close in the next few months,’ he said. ‘The practices want us to find them more GPs and more district nurses but they are in very short supply.’
He added that despite dire shortages across the country, there was an argument that Fermanagh was in greatest need and more needed to be done to attract GPs to the region.
‘We’re hoping over the next few months to bring in practice pharmacists, but getting more GPs and nurses will take much longer.’
Fermanagh has faced particular problems with recruiting new GPs to take over single-handed rural practices.
The GPC had previously said the staffing crisis in the region had ‘caught them unawares’ as many of the GPs were older and retiring at the same time.
A spokesperson for the Northern Ireland Health and Social Care Board said: ‘The Health and Social Care Board is continuing to work with GP practices in the Fermanagh area and to encourage them to form larger partnerships so that practices are in a stronger position to attract more GPs into the area and continue to provide general medical services to residents in the long term.
‘Discussions are currently ongoing with two groups of GP practices which will ensure services continue to be provided to patients in their own surgeries.
‘The Board believes that the way forward for a sustainable model for provision of GP services in the area is through the formation of such networks, which would provide both high quality clinical care and an attractive proposition for young newly qualified GPs to come and work in the rural Fermanagh area.’
Pulse has been calling for emergency support to be made available to preserve practices on the brink through its Stop Practice Closures campaign.
Picture credit: Fermanagh Lakelands