STRABANE’S out-of-hours service was without a doctor for almost 75 per-cent of the past year, new information from the Department of Health has revealed.
Responding to a letter to the Department from local MLA, Daniel McCrossan, the permanent secretary, Richard Pengelly blamed “increasing demand and difficulties associated with recruiting sufficient numbers of GPs,” for the shortfall.
Mr Pengelly relayed how Strabane’s out-of-hours had only offered a GP-led clinic on 95 nights over the past 12 months.
However he also maintained that surveys continue to indicate high levels of patient satisfaction with the service currently being provided.
“WUC (Western Urgent Care) plan to have one clinician working the Strabane base during operational hours and, in the past year, they had 95 nights (26 per-cent) of planned clinical hours filled by GPs in the Strabane base,” Mr Pengelly explained.
He continued, “In addressing the challenges of insufficient GPs for all the planned shifts in Strabane, and across the region, WUC has increased the skills-mix of the workforce so it now has a combination of skilled staff including GPs, Advanced Nurse Practitioners (ANPs) and Marie Curie nurses to see and treat patients.”
However Daniel McCrossan disagrees.
He said the percentages show “a scandalous neglect of Strabane people.”
“It is absolutely shocking that, in the last year, there were no out-of-hours GP services in Strabane 74 per-cent of the time,” he remarked.
“This is not acceptable and action must now be taken given that Stormont is back up and running.”
“Many families have contacted my office to raise concerns about having to travel to Altnagelvin for treatment because there is no out-of-hours GP services here. These cases involved vulnerable children, older people and people suffering chronic illness. These patients should not have to travel to A&E to wait hours for treatment. It should be provided locally.
“I believe the only way to deal with the issues facing this service in Strabane is for all relevant health organisations to come together, along with GP representative bodies, to reach a sensible and long-term solution – and that includes extra funding. That is why I have written to the Minister and the Board demanding action.”