Leading article

GP crisis needs urgent attention

With the Stormont institutions on ice, the number of issues requiring the attention of a democratically elected and locally accountable executive are starting to pile up.

One of the most pressing concerns is the healthcare system in the north which has long been hit by mounting difficulties.

The problems are well recognised, the question is what is being done to address them.

Last year's report by Professor Rafael Bengoa set out an ambitious ten-year plan for reforming healthcare in the north, with a key element involving the development of GP services.

An effective, efficient and properly resourced family doctor system is crucial to the delivery of high quality care to the population.

However, the British Medical Association has been warning for some time that primary care is in crisis, with too few doctors to replace the numbers who are retiring while practices are dealing with increased patient demand.

Rural practices have been especially hard hit with a number of closures leaving patients to make alternative arrangements.

In country areas this can often mean people having to travel long distances to see a doctor or collect a prescription - that is if another practice is prepared to take on the patients who have been left without a local surgery.

It is clear that matters have become particularly bad in Roslea, Co Fermanagh, where the practice closed in April leaving 1,500 villagers without a GP.

Patients now have to make the 15 mile journey to a newly amalgamated practice in Lisnaskea but that change has proved less than straightforward as a result of problems with the telephone system.

The Health and Social Care Board has put in place a minibus to ferry patients from Roslea to Lisnaskea but patients have to book two days in advance and so far none has done so.

This is the situation in just one village but unless the crisis in GP recruitment is tackled, we can expect to hear more cases of surgeries closing and patients being left in limbo.

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