When SDLP MLA Justin McNulty discovered no GPs were available for the Out of Hours in the Southern Health Trust one evening, he tabled a specific question to the NI Assembly.
“In the last three years 5,968 shifts in the GP Out Of Hours Service have gone unfilled. Many complain of long waits for a call back whilst others say they end up directed to go to the Emergency Departments in Craigavon or Daisy Hill and yet we’re advised to stay away from them too as they are at breaking point.”
Upper Bann MLA Dolores Kelly said: “The record of abysmal workforce planning by the Department of Health over years has played a major role in contributing to the horrendous situation which thousands of people on waiting lists now find themselves in.
“This was compounded by the failure of previous Higher Education Ministers in failing to adequately resources medical and nursing places with our universities.
“I first raised these points back in 2015 with Ministers and in the Assembly. The scarcity of GPs was highlighted in a report in 2015 by the British Medical Association and years on we are now seeing those warnings being realised.
“Over the last decade or more of Tory austerity the Health Trusts have managed budgets by offering short-term or temporary contracts as staff costs are one of their most significant overheads. This was never sustainable and a perfect storm has now developed. We challenged the Finance Minister on his budget which failed to provide the resource necessary to tackle waiting lists and fund the health service transformation plan.
“We have pledge to work constructively with all parties to putting people health first and tackling the waiting lists which is the worst across these islands.”
Jonathan Buckley MLA: “It is shocking to learn that 5,968 GP Out of Hours shifts in the Southern Trust area have gone unfilled in the last three years.
“On an almost daily basis I am learning of more and more local people who are suffering in pain and falling victim to endless waiting lists.
“Our health service has been under immense pressure and there is no doubt that this has added to the demands on our Emergency Departments.
“This has revealed the devastating reality of our Out of Hours services and the Minister of Health must address this with urgency.”
The Southern Health Trust said: “The Out of Hours service is for people with serious and urgent medical conditions that cannot wait until GP surgeries reopen. It is available from 6pm each week day evening until 9am the next morning and 24 hours a day on weekends and bank holidays.
“Unfortunately due to significant workforce challenges in recent years, we sometimes are not able to provide full GP cover in our Out Of Hours service. However, as a telephone-based service, patients should always telephone first to access our team of GPs, Pharmacists and Nurses. The majority of patients will be treated with telephone advice, some will be given an appointment at their nearest Out of Hours base and a smaller number will require a home visit. The Trust continually strive to increase the clinical workforce and there is an open recruitment process for GP’s. The Trust has also extended the skill mix in the service by increasing the nursing workforce.”
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