We need ‘to get back to normal’

Portadown Health Centre. Photographer - � Matt Mackey / Press Eye
Portadown Health Centre. Photographer - � Matt Mackey / Press Eye

Portadown Health Centre now needs a period of calm after what has been a turbulent few weeks, staff have said.

The centre has been at the centre of a political and media storm after a GP contractor who was set to take over Bannview Medical Practice suddenly pulled out on Monday.

The Health and Social Care Board (HSCB) has sought to reassure the practice’s 5,200 patients by removing the ‘emergency appointments only’ system which had been in operation.

A spokesperson said, “Bannview Medical Practice is providing a normal service to all patients registered with the practice and patients are advised to contact the practice in the normal way.

“The service is no longer running in an emergency only capacity and no decision has been made to close the practice.”

The board said it is continuing to “work diligently” to secure another permanent contractor. It also revealed that it is exploring other options including the Southern Health and Social Care Trust taking on the contract for Bannview.

Speaking this week, two senior members of staff within separate practices at the health centre (who do not wish to be named) said it was in everyone’s interests to get Bannview up and running again.

One said, “The board is doing very well in terms of getting locums in to run Bannview. We need to do all we can now to get back to normal, generate a positive environment and encourage GPs to come here.”

A protest is to go ahead today (Friday) to register anger that the situation was allowed to get to the point where “four good doctors were lost”.

Bannview patient Tony Hendron says today’s protest at the health centre, which starts at 11am, will highlight public anger at how the situation was handled.

“It should never have got to the stage it did,” he said. “The practice had been warning for two years of the problems. Now it has lost four good doctors, and we still don’t know what will happen in the future.”

The local man was also one of two Bannview patients interviewed on BBC Radio Ulster’s Talkback programme.

Tony told the programme that the Health and Social Care Board (HSCB) had reacted too late to the crisis and that some patients were now going straight to A&E to be dealt with. At that point the practice was operating emergency appointments only.

Patrick, a patient of Bannview for years, told the programme he suffered 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 address the GP shortage and was awaiting funding.

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

Monday’s news of the loss of Bannview’s contractor was also met with dismay by political representatives.

MLA Doug Beattie said, “This is an unprecedented and deeply disturbing situation. 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. “

Upper Bann MP David Simpson said he had “no doubt that the collapse of our political institutions at Stormont has played a significant factor in the contractor withdrawing from the practice”.

Sinn Féin MLA John O’Dowd expressed his “great disappointment” but said renewed efforts were already in play to secure a long-term resolution.