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Whole town ‘could be left with no general practice’

A 5,200 patient practice in Portadown, Northern Ireland, has lost all four of its GPs, leading to fears that general practice in the whole town could soon collapse.

The practice is being run by locums, and LMC leaders warn that the other practices are ‘teetering on the brink’ and are in no position to take on 1,000 patients each.

It comes as GPs in Northern Ireland are considering whether to submit undated resignations, while the GPC is currently formulating a ‘Plan B’ that would see GPs leaving the NHS.

Southern LMC chair Dr Frances O’Hagan said one of the partners of Bannview Medical practice left general practice altogether in June.

Two salaried GPs then went on maternity leave, with the remaining part-time partner battling to keep open the practice, which is based in a deprived area in a health centre with six other surgeries.

Dr O’Hagan said: ‘She lasted about 10 days. She didn’t want to resign but she could not do the work of four GPs on her own.

‘It is now being run ad hoc by locums, and the other practices are not in a position to take on 1,000 extra patients each – they are all teetering on the brink.

‘We are extremely worried this could have a domino effect with the other practices and take out general practice in the whole town.’

The example shows the extremely fragile state of general practice in the country, she said.

‘Things are really horrendous and once dominoes start falling it will all go down really quickly, we’re talking within six months. We are all just one step behind Portadown.’

Northern Irish GPC chair Dr Tom Black said they were working very hard to avoid the ‘domino effect’ taking hold in Portadown.

‘We are in negotiations with the Department of Health to try and get funding and we are hoping to hear some news back next month,’ he said.

He said that practices in the Southern region were being hit particularly hard by the crisis in general practice, referencing an LMC meeting that took place in Armagh, where 93% of GPs backed calls for undated resignations.

‘They are crying out for help. Some of them felt we should be doing something much more radical than undated resignations.’

A spokesperson for the Health and Social Care Board said they were in the process of advertising for a new GP contractor and expected to be able to award a new contract within three months.

‘We would like to reassure patients of Bannview Medical practice that GP services will continue to be provided at this time.

‘While a telephone triage system is still in place, routine appointments are now being offered via locum GPs in the practice, with additional support provided by advanced nurse practitioners and independent pharmacy prescribers retained by the GP practice.’

GPs in Northern Ireland push for undated resignations

The Northern Irish GPC has put plans in place for GPs to submit mass resignations and potentially leave the NHS, looking to the Republic of Ireland model, which charges patients for care.

GPC leaders are visiting LMCs across the country, with 97% of GPs at the Belfast meeting already giving their support to the plans.

At a ‘gloomy’ Southern region meeting in Armagh on Wednesday (9th November), 93% of GPs signed up for undated resignations.

But GP leaders warned that they may come too late and general practice in Northern Ireland will be ‘broken’ by then.