Fears are growing for the future of general practice in Portadown after a GP contractor pulled out of plans to take over a practice in the town.
The Bannview Medical Practice of 5,200 patients handed its contract back to the Health and Social Care Board in November after it lost all four of its GPs in a short space of time.
GP leaders raised strong concerns that unless a solution was found, the remaining practices in the town – who were also ‘teetering on the brink’ and could not take on additional patients – were at risk of collapse.
Last week it was reported that a GP contractor had been found to take over the practice although no details were given.
It has since emerged that the contractor has withdrawn from the contract leaving the practice in limbo and GPs in the region fearful for their survival.
GPC Northern Ireland chair Dr Tom Black said it was ‘extremely concerning’ that the contractor secured for Bannview will now not be taking over the practice.
‘The situation in Bannview is happening all over Northern Ireland and will get worse unless immediate action is taken.
‘Recent weeks have clearly shown that general practice here is on the edge of a full-blown crisis.
‘GPs across the country have called for immediate investment to prevent the collapse of general practice and have taken the step of considering resigning from the health service to ensure this does not happen.’
The news comes amid the collapse of the power sharing agreement in Northern Ireland which has thrown plans for a rescue deal for general practice into doubt.
‘A contingency plan is now urgently needed to address what should done in the event of an election and further delays to a budget being agreed,’ said Dr Black.
In a statement, health minister Michelle O’Neill also expressed concern about the situation in Portadown.
‘This is extremely disappointing news and I have asked for an urgent meeting with the Health and Social Care Board to ensure that patients continue to receive safe and high quality healthcare,’ she said.
Ms O’Neill said the Health and Social Care Board would continue to manage the practice until a contractor had been appointed and no decision had been made to close the practice, which has been run with locum cover.
She added: ‘I am very aware of the challenges facing general practice and I have committed to invest in primary care.’
Northern Ireland’s ‘plan B’
The GPC in Northern Ireland devised its ‘plan B’ to take GP practices out of the NHS after failing to get the Government to address issues facing general practice.
Since then, the GPC has received the backing of plan B from grassroots GPs in Northern Ireland, and 25 January was set as a deadline to reach a rescue deal with the Department of Health.
So what is the GPC’s plan B?
It is looking at the model in the Republic of Ireland, where there are two types of patients. The first is those with a medical card who are seen in general practice without charge – this is dependent on income and covers around 40% of the population. But those without a card pay a charge of €45 to €55 for each consultation.