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Two thirds of Fermanagh GP surgeries to close in 18 months

Dr Tom Black has said general practice in Fermanagh is "collapsing" with 12 doctors due to leave their posts in the county in the next 18 months. He also expressed fears this could cause a domino effect around the north

GENERAL practice in Fermanagh is on the verge of "collapse" with more than two thirds of surgeries set to close within 18 months, a doctors' leader has warned.

The British Medical Association's Dr Tom Black said such was the crisis in the sector that he expects up to 12 doctors to leave their posts in the county in the next year and a half.

The Health and Social Care Board confirmed there are 17 active GP surgeries in Fermanagh, but Mr Black, chair of Northern Ireland General Practitioners Committee, said only five were viable going forward.

"We have a list of 12 doctors all leaving within the next 12 to 18 months and there aren't that many doctors there and each of those doctors leaving will be a practice closed," he said.

Details of the crisis facing General Practice emerged as 200 GPs from across the greater Belfast area attended a special meeting on Tuesday to discuss matters.

GPS have threatened mass resignation unless ministers implement emergency measures to prevent a collapse of the sector.

At the meeting 97 per cent signed an undated resignation from the health service.

GPs froze their threat to resign after Health Minister Michelle O'Neill announced a 10 year plan to improve the health service including providing more doctors in surgeries.

"Belfast is actually the one place that we're hanging in there and keeping things going," Dr Black said.

"But they can see what's happening in the rest of Northern Ireland, they can see the amount of work they have, they can see that there's no such thing as a locum anymore, they can see that the collapse will domino across Northern Ireland and ultimately affect Belfast.

"So they (doctors) voted with their pens and said if the minister is not prepared to fix this with investment in general practice then we're going to step outside the NHS."

The BMA representative said any decision for general practice to move outside the NHS will be dependant on action taken by the minister.

"We're happy to wait for the minister to follow up her words with actions so we'll not be enacting any withdrawal from the NHS this side of Christmas.

"We will however continue with our GP meetings. We will continue to collect the undated resignations and if the investment from the minister isn't consistent with rescue for general practice we will the continue with our moves to move outside the NHS," he added.

The Royal College of General Practitioners in Northern Ireland has called for "immediate action to support the GP profession and those practices currently struggling to cope".

“Unfortunately we are now at crisis point," chairman Dr John O'Kelly said.

GPs in the north have asked for similar investment in services announced by Jeremy Hunt in England and last week by Nicola Sturgeon in Scotland.

The Scottish First Minister used her closing speech at the SNP conference to announce an extra £500m investment in GP practices and health centres by 2021.

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