The 40-year-old Lisnaskea health centre – described by a former Health Minister as “poor accommodation” – will take on over 3,000 patients from Rosslea and Newtownbutler in a bid to tackle the ongoing GP crisis in County Fermanagh.
A total of 14,444 patients will be registered at Lisnaskea Health Centre when the Maple Group Practice begins providing General Medical Services to all patients currently registered with Rosslea Surgery, Newtownbutler Surgery and Dr. Leary’s former practice at Lisnaskea.
Staff at Lisnaskea Health Centre are currently expanding into the vacant Drumhaw Nursing Home in preparation for the changes.
The Health and Social Care Board (HSCB) announced on Monday that Rosslea surgery will close this Saturday and its patients will transfer to Lisnaskea.
Newtownbutler GP Dr. Kevin Devlin is retiring from general practice tomorrow (Friday). His patients will be subsumed into Lisnaskea but Newtownbutler surgery will remain open until a new Health and Care Centre is built in Lisnaskea.
Dr. Roy Leary retired from general practice in February but stayed on at his practice in Lisnaskea Health Centre until this arrangement was put in place.
A HSCB spokeswoman said: “The new combined practice will be known as Maple Healthcare. In order to secure a safe and high quality level of treatment and care it will only be possible to provide services from two sites at Lisnaskea Health Centre and Newtownbutler Surgery. The Rosslea Surgery premises will be closed from April 15 onwards.”
Due to the complexity of the computer systems, “for the time being”, all patients transferring from Rosslea Surgery must avail of services at Lisnaskea and all patients transferring from Newtownbutler must continue to avail of services in Newtownbutler. “Once all the computer systems are connected into one, patients will be able to access services at the site of their preference,” the spokeswoman said.
The news has been met with “absolute anger” in Rosslea, where Sinn Féin Councillor Brian McCaffrey says the decision was taken “without consultation with patients”. He told The Impartial Reporter: “We’ve lost too much to let something else go almost by default.” Councillor McCaffrey met HSCB officials on Monday and suggested that Rosslea surgery become a satellite surgery three days a week. He was told “this was not an acceptable solution.”
SDLP Councillor Garbhan McPhillips said: “The Department of Health has a great deal to answer for in the lack of preparation for this day.”
The Erne East Councillors raised the closure of Rosslea surgery at Tuesday night’s Regeneration and Community Committee meeting and the Council agreed to seek an urgent meeting with the HSCB.
Meanwhile, Lisnaskea GP Dr. John Porteous described the move as “making the most of a bad situation.” He told The Impartial Reporter: “There was no Plan B on the table apart from us taking over. This is a process we have been working on with the HSCB for a while. We wanted to achieve a model that is survivable and sustainable for the existing doctors.”
The GP crisis has been deepening in Northern Ireland for the past two years, since policy makers were warned that 25 per cent of GPs were aged 55 and over.
In addition, many younger GPs have said that full-time clinical work, along with the responsibility of running a practice and employing staff, is now making general practice a less attractive career.
Ahead of the snap election in March, it was announced that there will be an increase in GP training places from 65 to 111 by 2019. However, some doctors say that figure should be 120 or more.
There are currently 35 GPs working in 14 practices across 10 towns and villages in Fermanagh, with 67,090 patients, according to the most recent HSCB figures.
In order to attract young GPs to Lisnaskea, the existing GPs felt it would be “much more acceptable if you have a management team who will look after the issues that we, as doctors, are not cut out for.” Therefore, Maple Healthcare will incorporate the Maple Group Practice’s management team, along with the admin teams from Rosslea and Newtownbutler.
The practice currently has five GP partners and three ‘sessional GPS’ and are still on the lookout for more GPs to join.
Dr. Porteous concluded: “We will do our best to continue to provide the best possible service we can. We ask for our patients’ patience and understanding in the weeks and months ahead as we restructure. I cannot stress enough how much we need a new Health and Care Centre as our current practice is under extreme pressure in terms of size and structural security.”