North Down Alliance Representatives Stephen Farry MP, Andrew Muir MLA and Connie Egan MLA have responded to the announcement by the current GP partners at the Priory Surgery in Holywood and Springhill will no longer be providing General Medical Service from 1st February 2023.
They have expressed concern at the impact upon the patients directly affected and primary care in the North Down area more generally plus knock-on consequences for A&E services. They have called for the Department of Health and the SE Trust to intervene to ensure the continuity of services.
Andrew Muir MLA stated "This news has brought considerable anxiety for patients across the two Priory centres. There is six months to provide a long-term and sustainable solution. It is not going to be easy but that must be the focus of the health authorities over the coming months."
"With 14,500 patients, the Priory Practice is simply too big to fail. All other local practices are already under huge pressure, and it would be very challenging for them to absorb thousands of patients over the next few months. Similarly, we must be mindful of any displacement of patients instead presenting themselves at over-stretched A&E services when their situations are not warranted. Instead, Northern Ireland needs an adequately resources and efficient primary care sector, including an enhanced role for Allied Health Professionals such as Physiotherapists."
Dr Stephen Farry MP said: "This situation with Priory Practice has been building over many years, and it reflects widespread problems in general practice in Northern Ireland and elsewhere in the UK. The age profile of GPs has seen doctors approaching retirement age, but workforce planning over recent years has not seen enough GP training places and enough new doctors joining general practice."
"Furthermore, inflation-driven pension growth has created inadvertent breaches of tax allowances by medical professionals and created major disincentives against staying in work. I have written to the UK Treasury to make representations on this issue."
"Covid-related pressures have also made the work of GPs even more challenging"
"While we welcome the increased training places for GPs that have now been made available in Northern Ireland, it will take time for this to have an impact on GP numbers. In addition, other steps around reform of the health service is required including a greater role for allied health professionals to make general practice more sustainable."
Connie Egan MLA added: "The Department of Health's Strategic Planning and Performance Group are seeking an alternative GP contractor or group of GPs to provide a continuity of service. Current patients do not need to take any action at this stage. The Department will contact patients to inform them if they need to do anything."
"Over the coming days, we will be meeting with the BMA, the Royal College of General Practitioners and the Department of Health to explore what can be done to find a solution and to provide continuity of care. This may require significant ingenuity and creativity from the Department and the Trust."
"This will not be easy as GP Practices across Northern Ireland are under pressure and there is a shortage of GPs until the current students are fully qualified."