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International health expert living in Co Armagh 'forced to go to Australia' to get GP appointment

Australian native Jason Calvert says he had to go to Australia to get a GP appointment because he cannot get registered with a practice in Portadown. Picture by Bill Smyth
Seanín Graham

AN international health expert living in Co Armagh has said he had to go to Australia to get a GP appointment because he cannot get registered with a practice locally.

Jason Calvert (29), who is originally from Melbourne, suffers from a rare lung condition and has been trying to get on the books of a surgery in Portadown for the past year.

He told The Irish News he is in "limbo" and raised concerns that more vulnerable people, including migrants who do not have English as their first language, would be caught up in the same situation.

"I'm someone who can navigate the healthcare system and escalate it - but there's probably lots of people who can't," he said.

"I tried to register with my local GP in Portadown almost a year ago but they have put me on a waiting list and won't give me a letter of refusal which I need to get assigned with someone else.

"The irony is that I have private health insurance through work - but I can't get anything done because I need a GP referral.

"I had to go to A&E last year which, as someone who studies health systems, I hated doing as it wasn't the right place for me to go.

"I was given steroid medication by a Melbourne GP in January but as of now if I have no GP and if I become ill again have no option but to go back to A&E."

The Portadown area, like many others part of the north, has been hit by GP shortages and has seen the closure of one practice with 5,000 patients.

Mr Calvert, a senior manager at PricewaterhouseCoopers who previously worked with the World Health Organisation, moved to the north two years ago and lives with his fiancee in Co Armagh.

He said when he travelled home to Melbourne in January he was seen by a GP and had a chest x-ray and bloods taken within 24 hours of making an appointment online.

No registration was required and his x-ray results were given to him that evening - which showed the condition had progressed. He was charged £20.

He said he understands the constraints created by GP shortages but has been offered no explanation why he cannot be referred to another doctor.

 

"Despite making a major contribution to the Northern Irish economy, and paying a huge amount of tax to the government, I am unable to access basic GP services in my area," he said.

"Aside from the healthcare system, I think Northern Ireland is a fantastic place to live. Like Australia, I would be willing to pay to have a more efficient system. Those who cannot afford healthcare back home get it for free."

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