Urgent question for minister on Bannview crisis

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The withdrawal of the new contractor for Bannview Medical Practice in Portadown is to be raised in an urgent oral question to the Health Minister at Stormont this afternoon (Tuesday).

MLA Jo-Anne Dobson is to put the question to Minister Michelle O’Neill at 3.30 in the chamber.

It was confirmed yesterday that the contractor due to take on the practice in March had withdrawn.

And the crisis was today discussed on BBC Radio Ulster’s Talkback programme where Portadown man Tony Hendron was one of two Bannview patients interviewed.

Tony told the programme that the Health and Social Care Board (HSCB) had reacted very late to the crisis and that some patients were now going straight to A&E to be dealt with.

“We need to get on the backs of the board,” he added.

Patrick, a patient of Bannview for years, said he suffers from post-traumatic stress disorder and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD).

He explained, “You get to know your doctor and your doctor knows you. With locums you don’t have that some connectivity.”

Among the other interviewees was Dr Tom Black, chair of the BMA Northern Ireland GP Committee (NIGPC). He said a plan had been agreed with the Minister on December 23 to try and address the GP shortage and was awaiting funding.

He said that while GPs did not want to leave the NHS, they need more staff. He added, “My big concern is that we will be left with a choice between no service and private service.”

Yesterday (Monday), the Minister said she had asked for an urgent meeting with the Health and Social Care Board (HSCB) to ensure Bannview patients continue to receive safe and high quality healthcare.

She also confirmed that the board will continue to manage the practice in the interim period until a new contractor is appointed. “No decision has been made to close the practice and the HSCB will be writing to all patients to advise them of the current arrangements,” she added.

The news has been met with dismay by patients and political representatives.

MLA Doug Beattie said, “This is an unprecedented and deeply disturbing situation. It is shocking that over 5,200 patients at the Bannview Practice in the Portadown area now face the prospect of having no access to a local GP. It is simply outrageous that so many children, so many people requiring regular and complex care, and so many of our elderly have been left in this situation through no fault of their own.

“The Health Minister and the Health Board should have listened to the clear warning from the group of local GPs before Christmas. They made it clear that given the immense pressures already facing their lists, and in order to avoid a domino scenario, they are simply not in a position to take on any new patients.

“Having seemingly been brought to the precipice two weeks ago, the Board was forced into the position of temporarily providing locum GPs just to make sure Bannview remained open. Shortly after we were then told that a contractor had been secured. However, we were never told the details and now I suspect it was because the arrangement was not as firm as the Minister had suggested.”

Sinn Féin MLA John O’Dowd said, “This news will come as a great disappointment to all those who worked so hard to secure a new GP provider for Bannview.

“However, more importantly it will come as a shock to the patients of Bannview who had expressed such relief that the matter had been resolved.”

Upper Bann MP David Simpson said the announcement was “devastating news for patients”.

He said, “Since the announcement I have been in daily contact with the board to seek a long term solution. We were all delighted when a contractor had agreed to take over the practice but this was a private arrangement as with all GP practices.

“I have no doubt that the collapse of our political institutions at Stormont has played a significant factor in the contractor withdrawing from the practice.

“I am meeting with the board this week first and foremost about Bannview but also the uncertainly around GP provision as a whole.”