THE Department of Health has confirmed that it is still working to put in place ‘alternative arrangements’ for services at Kilkeel Medical Practice.
In late April, the Greencastle Street surgery confirmed in an online post that its GP partners had decided to hand back ‘the contract to deliver GP services in Kilkeel Primary Care Centre’, and that this would take effect on 1 November. Responding to this, the department said that – having ‘received notice that the GPs would be withdrawing from their contract to deliver general medical services at the end of the notice period in six months’ time’ – it would ‘now begin a process to develop alternative arrangements for these services’.
The Mourne Observer contacted the Department of Health this week for an update on the situation. A departmental response read: ‘The Department of Health is continuing to work to put alternative arrangements in place for these services. ‘When these plans are finalised, we will immediately inform patients and the wider public.’ Its April statement said that a number of different options were available to the department to ‘ensure patients are not left without a GP service’. ‘The preferred option is to secure a GP contractor – or grouping of GPs – to take over the practice through a formal recruitment process,’ it read. ‘In some circumstances, health and social care trusts can take over a GP contract as an interim solution.’
The department also acknowledged ‘the ongoing and significant pressures on GP practices, stemming from the fact that demand for their services is outstripping capacity to provide it’. ‘Notwithstanding budgetary pressures, the department is committed to building the GP workforce. ‘We have made significant progress in relation to the number of GPs we train each year. ‘The number of GP training places in Northern Ireland has been increased by 70 per cent from 2015 levels in recent years. ‘The review of places is ongoing and the department will consider recommendations from the review of training places in the future. ‘The department has also recently streamlined the processes for GPs who qualified in a number of countries to take up roles in Northern Ireland,’ the statement concluded. The Kilkeel Medical Practice post stated that ‘this difficult decision has been taken as the practice has been unable to recruit GPs to fill several vacancies for some time now’. ‘The practice has been operating with half the workforce of three years ago, and, as a result, the management of the everincreasing workload has become unsustainable,’ it read.