Healthcare news

Man living in Co Armagh who had to go home to Australia to see a GP is finally registered

Australian Jason Calvert, who lives in Northern Ireland and has been trying to get registered with a GP for a year, is finally on the books of a Portadown practice. Picture by Bill Smyth
Seanín Graham

AN Australian man living in Northern Ireland who was forced to go home to get a GP appointment because he couldn't get registered in Co Armagh is now on the books of a Portadown surgery.

The Irish News revealed on Wednesday how international health expert Jason Calvert (29), who suffers from a rare lung condition, has been trying for the past year to get registered as his illness requires regular management.

Mr Calvert said hours after the story was published, a GP in Portadown contacted him to offer him an appointment this Monday, along with a referral to a respiratory specialist.

The former World Health Organisation worker, who lives with his fiancee in the town, said he is glad he can now finally access the north's healthcare services but remains concerned that other more vulnerable people may not be as lucky.

"The doctor was very apologetic and said it was a mistake but it's sad that I had to go to the press before I could finally get registered. I know the healthcare system and how it should work but there are other patients, including migrants with limited English, who may not know what to do," he said.

"The problem was that the Portadown surgery would not give me a letter of refusal so I was unable to get assigned to another practice. Instead they said I was on their 'waiting list' and continued to hold onto all my official documents including copies of my visa and passport.

"When I phoned the Health and Social Board on Tuesday morning about the issue they were also unable to help."

Mr Calvert said the Board, which is responsible for GP services in the north, told him to not to pursue its complaints procedure but to instead "contact the ombudsman".

He added that he provided all requested documentation on multiple occasions.

"I went through all the right routes and still ended up getting nowhere."

Last November, Mr Calvert became ill and had to attend Craigavon Area Hospital's A&E department because he could not get prescribed steroid medication from a GP to treat his respiratory condition, which causes breathing difficulties.

Two months later on a trip home to Melbourne, he got a GP appointment where an x-ray confirmed his condition had deteriorated.

"My condition can be managed through steroid treatment and I am well. Without a GP in Northern Ireland, my only option was to go to A&E which I really shouldn't be doing."

The Irish News asked the Board to comment on the concerns raised by Mr Calvert and his claim that it referred him to the ombudsman.

In a statement, a spokeswoman did not answer the specific queries but confirmed it had contacted the Portadown surgery.

She said: "While we cannot comment on individual cases, all patients must provide the practice with all of the necessary information requested in order to complete their registration.

"All patients in Northern Ireland must register with a GP, who are independent contractors. Patients seeking to register with a GP practice in Northern Ireland can be seen and treated as a temporary resident until such times as the registration process is complete. Under their contract GPs are also required to provide immediately necessary treatment to any person who requires it."

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