Northern Ireland

Bannview Medical Practice: New GP provider pulls out of contract

Portadown Health Centre Image copyright © P Flannagan/CC Geograph
Image caption GPs from the other surgeries in Portadown Health Centre have been helping out with emergency cases while health authorities search for replacement doctors

Attempts to save a County Armagh GP practice have failed after a new contractor withdrew from the process.

Bannview Medical Practice in Portadown faced closure after its last remaining doctor resigned. It has 5,200 patients on its books.

The BBC understands that the new contractor, who is based in Belfast, had agreed to take over the practice.

However, that GP has now withdrawn from the contract, according to the Department of Health.

'Urgent meeting'

Previously, Health Minister Michelle O'Neill said she had hoped that the new provider would be in place from early March.

However, late on Monday afternoon, the minister expressed disappointment at the development.

"This is extremely disappointing news and I have asked for an urgent meeting with the Health and Social Care Board (HSCB) to ensure that patients continue to receive safe and high quality healthcare.

"The HSCB will continue to manage the practice in the interim period until a new contractor is appointed."

'Couldn't cope'

The minister added: "No decision has been made to close the practice and the HSCB will be writing to all patients to advise them of the current arrangements."

Image caption Portadown Health Centre is home to seven GP surgeries, including the troubled Bannview Medical Practice, which has seen its last remaining regular GP resign over her workload

Bannview Medical Practice once had four full-time GPs tending to its 5,200 patients.

Clare McConville-Walker, a patient at the surgery, said she felt "let down and disappointed".

"I don't feel we were given enough information throughout this process," she told the BBC's Good Morning Ulster programme.

"We had little bits of information, mostly through the media, and had to hear that the contractor had pulled out again through the media.

"We're worried and fearful that the surgery will close now."

Ms McConville-Walker, who has elderly relatives who use the surgery on a daily basis, said they were currently receiving treatment from locums. But she said there was no "continuity of care" and her relatives sometimes see a different professional every day.

Earlier this month, the BBC reported how the last remaining doctor had said she could simply no longer cope with the pressure.

In an emotional letter, which was presented to the Stormont Health Committee and published in the Portadown Times, Dr Heanen said she simply "couldn't cope" with 12 to 14 hour working days with no breaks.

"I often didn't eat until 9pm at night," she said.

"One of the GPs went on maternity leave in March 2016 and then a GP partner left in August 2016.

'I left in tears'

"This left me and one heavily pregnant GP trying to provide a service for 5,200 patients. We barely scraped by."

Dr Heanen advertised for staff and locum GPs, but to no avail.

When the only other GP in the practice left, she had 5,200 patients to tend to herself - almost quadruple the Northern Ireland average.

Ulster Unionist MLA for Upper Bann, Jo-Anne Dobson, said the contract withdrawal was a "bitter blow to the people of Portadown".

Ms Dobson added that she has submitted an urgent oral question to "compel" the health minster to "explain this situation to the public via the assembly chamber".

More on this story