Northern Ireland news

Trust bosses meet doctors to discuss 'contingencies' for out-of-hours GP service as cover reduces further

Workforce shortages have led to the suspension of an out-of-hours GP service for periods as concerns mount about its future
Seanín Graham

DISCUSSIONS about the future of an out-of-hours GP service are taking place between health trust bosses and medics as cover diminishes over the summer.

The Belfast trust met GPs last Friday ahead of the Twelfth weekend when there were gaps in the 'Beldoc' rotas that could not be filled and which led to its closure for periods.

Last month The Irish News reported the service - which has two bases in the north and south of the city - was suspended for the first time across three consecutive weekends due to severe workforces shortages.

Belfast GPs are also choosing to work out-of-hours in an 'urgent care centre' based at the Royal Victoria Hospital site - a service which began operating last December - where higher rates of pay are offered.

The centre was set up to triage those patients who would have normally attended A&E with urgent but "not life-threatening" illness or injuries, and who still may be transferred there for emergency care following assessment.

Meanwhile, the Beech Hall Covid centre in Belfast is paying more attractive hourly rates to GPs opting to work there outside day hours compared with Beldoc.

Sources say that a contingency plan is urgently needed over the next two months due to medics taking holidays - and that the Belfast out-of-hours GP service will eventually "amalgamate" with the urgent care centre at the Royal.

It is understood that a "temporary solution" may be the closure of the out-of-hours GP service in south Belfast.

A Belfast trust spokeswoman admitted Beldoc was "continuing to experience significant pressure and in recent weeks has experienced gaps in the GP rota which we have been unable to fill".

She said this was happening across all health trusts.

Last month a leading GP warned the continuing development will "inevitably" have a knock-on effect on numbers showing up to hospital A&E units in Belfast, which are experiencing a major spike in attendances and delays.

The trust spokesman said: "It remains our first priority to provide a safe, seamless and accessible service for every member of the public who requires it and we are working with our GP colleagues to identify a temporary solution to this issue.

"As these efforts continue, we established temporary arrangements for 9th-12th July when both the Crumlin Road and Knockbreda bases were closed for short periods.

"These arrangements ensured a GP was available at all times to those who required it and support was also provided to those receiving palliative care, those in acute mental health crisis and...support for community nursing colleagues with regard to prescriptions."

The trust stressed that patients requiring the GP Out of Hours service should continue to access it by calling BELDOC 02890796220 or SEBDOC 02890744447.

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