There was no clinician present in the Enniskillen Out of Hours (OOH) base over last weekend on two occasions, a Department of Health spokesperson has confirmed to The Impartial Reporter.

In a statement, the spokesperson said: “There was no clinician in the Enniskillen GP OOH base on Saturday, May 7, from 4pm to midnight, and on Sunday, May 8, from 8am to 4pm. Clinicians were present in the base during the rest of the weekend.

“The service provided by Western Urgent Care (WUC) faces similar challenges to the other OOH providers across Northern Ireland as a result of demand and difficulties in filling all available GP shifts across five clinical bases.”

Continuing, the Department spokesperson said: “GP cover was provided by WUC last weekend, which would like to assure patients that clinical cover is available on all occasions.

“On-call GPs were in place, as per the service contingency plans, for the treatment and care of any urgent palliative care patients and mental health patients.”

Of the work carried out by the WUC workforce – including why WUC is now using a mixed-skill workforce – the spokesperson said: “WUC aims to have clinicians working in each clinical base during all operational hours, and has skill-mixed the workforce so there can be a combination of GPs, advanced nurse practitioners and prescribing pharmacists working in the clinics.”

Continuing, the spokesperson said: “These are in addition to a significant number of experienced nurse advisors who undertake the majority of the telephone triage of patients.

“The majority of patients who contact the service do not need to be seen face to face and will receive self-care advice or support to contact alternative local services, such as their local pharmacy, district nursing team, dental services or their own GP.”

The Impartial Reporter asked the Department if it is productive to divert OOH patients to the South West Acute Hospital (SWAH), when SWAH Emergency Department (ED) is under immense pressure?

In response, the spokesperson said: “WUC clinicians are acutely aware of the pressures faced by the local ED and will only refer patients to the EDs that have a clinical emergency need.

“These patients will likely have still been referred to the ED whether there was a clinician in the local OOH base or not.

"Many patients will contact the GP OOH service due to wound, injuries and other trauma, which is more appropriately dealt with in an ED.”