FERMANAGH and Omagh District Council is to seek advice on how it could help attract new GPs and other medical staff to the area.

Members were responding to a letter sent from former Minister of Health, Michelle O’Neill, in which she addressed the “current difficulties” in attracting and retaining medical staff, in particular to the South West Acute Hospital, and also GPs across the council area.

In the letter, Ms. O’Neill welcomed the proposal for a medical school in the North West.

She stated that the Department of Health was working closely with the Ulster University on the development of an Outline Business Case, which would begin to address the “key and substantial issues” on which much further work would be required to establish the feasibility of the proposal.

“The challenges regarding the recruitment and retention of doctors, particularly junior doctors are complex. Senior management in the Western HSC Trust are working with the NI Medical and Dental Training Agency on this issue. I am sure that the Trust would welcome input from the Council on this work,” Ms. O’Neill stated.

In relation to GP services in county Fermanagh, the former Minister stated that the HSC Board and Departmental officials had been working closely with GPs in the area to ensure the “ongoing sustainability” of services in light of recent and planned retirements of GP contractors.

She added: “The HSC Board would welcome any assistance the Council may be able to provide in future recruitment initiatives and encourage GPs to the Fermanagh area. You may wish to contact Pat Brolly, the Business Support Manager in the Board’s Western Office, in the first instance to discuss.”

At the March monthly meeting of Fermanagh and Omagh District Council, independent representative, Dr. Jo Deehan, told the meeting that she was “not sure” how the local authority could encourage or promote GP recruitment to counties Fermanagh and Tyrone.

However, she added: “But certainly if Mr. Brolly has any ideas as to how we as a Council might help with that I propose that we write to Mr. Brolly and ask him is there anything further we can do?”

Chief executive, Brendan Hegarty, revealed that the PR sections from both the Council and the Western Trust were working together to improve the attractiveness of the area for doctors to come, work and relocate locally.

“That piece of work is ongoing between our respective communication officers and I think that’s an example of the areas where we intended to do some work,” Mr. Hegarty added.

Seconding Dr. Deehan’s proposal, Erne North councillor, Raymond Farrell, told the meeting that “time is of the essence”.

Mr. Farrell said: “We are reading and seeing so much about pressures on doctors and medics, waiting lists and a significant increase in our elderly population which in time will demand more medical intervention.

“We’ve got a very good report on the table, the Bengoa report, and I think it’s very important that this is speedily progressed to meet the needs of constituents here.”

He added: “I certainly hope it will progress a lot quicker than maybe I am reading here because time is of the essence.”