Leading article

GP crisis needs urgent attention

It is clear that the numerous warnings about the serious pressures being felt in the primary care sector in Northern Ireland are now being realised, with the problems at a Portadown practice underlining what is a wider issue.

More than 5,000 patients at Bannview Medical Practice have been left wondering what the future holds after the last GP at the surgery handed in her resignation.

In a letter published in the Portadown Times, Dr Shauna Heanen described the enormous strain she was under, working 12-14 hour days without a break as she tried to cope with the needs of her patients.

The situation she outlined was intolerable but it is deeply regrettable that a dedicated doctor who loved her job felt she had no option but to resign.

Concerns were raised about the future of the practice with other overstretched GPs in the town warning they could not take on Bannview's patients.

The health and social care board is in discussions with a potential contractor to take over Bannview but clearly this matter should have been addressed before it reached crisis point.

Unfortunately, all the indications are that this is just one of many practices experiencing difficulties in relation to workload and staffing.

A BMA report last year warned that smaller practices with fewer partners are at `serious risk of collapse in the immediate future' with the majority of surgeries in rural areas at risk of closure.

It emerged this week that 57 practices have written to the health and social care board to raise concerns over the future sustainability of their surgeries.

The Bengoa Report highlighted the pressures facing GPs and the health minister Michelle O'Neill has announced a 10-year plan which would include an increase in recruitment.

This is very welcome and over the longer term will hopefully alleviate these serious problems.

But there also needs to be measures in place to deal with the current serious difficulties to ensure all patients have access to a sustainable GP-led service.

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