Out-of-hours service report is damning

The Doctors on Call, Out of Hours service.
The Doctors on Call, Out of Hours service.

Moves are afoot to introduce sweeping changes to the Craigavon Area Hospital out-of-hours GP service following a damning report which was leaked to the media last week.

The service – which was criticised by a GP in a confidential report as “like walking into hell” – was extensively panned in the confidential report.

The information in the report was provided by 32 out-of-hours doctors – around 20 per cent of the local GPs who run the service.

They participated in a series of workshops aimed at gauging opinion and morale among staff.

Participants, who remain anonymous, described staffing as a “catastrophe” while cutting services in Newry and Craigavon was said to be “unmanageable and dangerous”.

The highly critical report describes a real lack of leadership across the out-of-hours service with little consultation with doctors and a lack of vision for the future.

It also describes management as being “remote” and “unapproachable”.

“Too few doctors filling shifts is clearly an issue, while others allege some are being paid an “enhancement” to work at short notice.

One GP said, “They (The Southern Health Trust) are reducing hours and the number of out-of-hours GPs, but then at the last minute they are trying to get people to fill shifts in areas. We waste more time ringing round trying to get doctors when we could be seeing patients. The whole system is just badly managed, with no forward planning.”

A spokesperson for the Southern Trust said, “Action has already been taken to address issues with the delivery of the service including ongoing recruitment for GPs, flexible working arrangements and enhanced payment rates for difficult-to-fill shifts, and the phased introduction of skilled nurses including advanced nurse practitioners.

“The trust has also run a series of workshops, open to all staff in the GP out-of-hours service, and through which staff were encouraged to share their views on the service now, and how it might best be managed and run in future.

“This confidential report was only recently completed, and has raised areas of concern that are being addressed as a matter of urgency by senior staff.”

Upper Bann MLA Jo-Anne Dobson challenged Health Minister Edwin Poots to act on the report. “I have raised a number of queries directly with Mr Poots. To hear staffing at local health facilities described by a health professional as a catastrophe and that cutting services in Newry and Craigavon was unmanageable and dangerous, really does strike fear into people.”

The issue prompted comment on our Facebook page.

Lisa Buckley said: “I have had to ring them three times before Christmas when my son was ill. The first time we had quite a wait for an appointment, we rang at 10pm and eventually got an appointment for 2.30am.

“When we did get there though the doctor could not have been nicer. He was excellent with Leo who was very distressed with croop and a bad ear infection. He apologised for the wait and explained he was covering all of the out of hours services between Dungannon and Newry.

“Surely that is too much pressure to put anyone under?”