Northern Ireland

Efforts to secure new Portadown GP

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

The health minister has said the Health and Social Care Board is still actively trying to get a permanent GP to take over a practice in County Armagh.

Bannview Medical Practice in Portadown faced potential closure after its last remaining doctor resigned but was thrown a lifeline when a new contract provider was announced.

On Monday, it was announced that the contractor who was in negotiations had withdrawn from the process.

It has 5,200 patients on its books.

Answering an urgent oral question in the Assembly, Michelle O'Neill also said there was a possibility the Southern Trust could step in and take on the contract.

This is significant as it would mean one of Northern Ireland's five health trusts would be directly employing GPs.

Image caption Grainne Doran said recruitment issues had impacted on the health service

That means they would lose their independence, something the BMA would not favour.

Senior doctors have been warning for some time about the problems facing GP surgeries.

Grainne Doran is chair of the Royal College of GP's in Northern Ireland.

"I think that we are entering a perfect storm. It has been highlighted that the recruitment issue was coming, the premises issue was coming and that the number of doctors reaching retirement age was coming and is coming," she said.

"So it's not that we are inventing something, it is happening in real time. The difficulty is that the solution should have started five to 10 years ago and we are now trying to fast-track those solutions."

Another issue facing the profession is that of the 1,317 GPs in Northern Ireland, 411 are locums, while others are part-time.

Ms Doran said more needs to be done to encourage locums to take up permanent posts, particularly in the current climate.

Image caption Sloan Harper said it would be enormously helpful if more locums took up permanent posts

"What the locums would like is to know that there is some control over workload, that's there's guaranteed holidays, that they have financial investment in the practice to guarantee their income and that they have mentoring and support to help them through the challenges of running a business as well as the clinical side," she said.

The Health and Social Care Board (HSCB) said it would welcome more locums taking up permanent posts.

Dr Sloan Harper from the HSCB said it would be enormously helpful.

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

"It would help to stabilise care provided within practices and would be helpful for the doctors in that they are working consistently with the patients and can follow them over time and see their development."

It is widely accepted that working as a locum can be more lucrative. When practices are up against finding staff, additional money can be offered to locums to fill in gaps on the rota.

On Bannview Medical Practice, the board said it was continuing to manage the practice in the interim period and that it is providing a normal service to all patients.

They add that it is no longer running in an "emergency-only" capacity and no decision has been made to close it.

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