Resigning GP blames Health Board for reneging on promises

March 29, 2016

Provision of primary medical care at a GP surgery in Crossmaglen is again facing uncertainty as news emerged during the past week that Dr Patrick Fee is to resign his NHS contract for provision of medical services in Rathkeeland House Surgery.

Last summer the long-serving practitioner was on the verge of leaving the practice he has headed for almost 25 years-the move prompted by the abrupt and unexpected departure of his practice partner, inability to secure adequate locum cover for his 3500+ patients and perceived lack of support from the Health and Social Care Board (HSCB). However, following a concerted campaign by his staff, coupled with somewhat belated assurances from the HSCB to ensure the provision of appropriate assistance, Dr Fee, despite some misgivings, agreed to remain in situ to avoid a collapse in services to his patients.

With his contract set to end on 30th June, Dr Fee spoke to The Examiner about the vexatious situation: “In late July 2015, when medical services to patients in this practice were on the point of crashing, I received, at almost the eleventh hour, supportive and encouraging words from the HSCB inviting me to resume the contract.  Neither the promised interim financial support to meet the enhanced locum rates advertised by the Board, nor the technical support, was forthcoming for a period of six months. If the Board had intended to increase the pressure on the practice, rather than relieve it, they could not have acted more effectively or more cynically,” he added angrily.

In relation to his own future Doctor Fee added: “I do not derive my status as a doctor from the NHS contract that I currently hold with the Board. I will continue to practice as a doctor after I relinquish this contract, and I will always have the interests of my people at heart.  But I am acutely aware that as a practicing doctor it is my responsibility to ensure that patient welfare, rights and needs are my first consideration in every professional act -this has been increasingly difficult to do in the context of a Health Service re-organisation, which appears to be more focused on attracting property developers than on retaining doctors and nurses.”

Patients of the practice received written notification from the HSCB this week of Dr. Fee’s impending retirement, effective from 30th June, with the recruitment process to seek a new contractor for the practice to begin “during March 2016”.  It is expected to be at least two months before the outcome of this process is known, the letter stated.

In response to The Examiner’s request for a report on the matter, a spokesperson for the Health and Social Care Board said: “The Health and Social Care Board can confirm that Dr Pat Fee, General Practitioner (GP) in Rathkeeland House, Crossmaglen, has notified the Board of his intention to retire.

“Dr Fee will be retiring from the practice on 30 June 2016 and his contract with the Board for provision of General Medical Services will end on the same date.  The Board will now advertise across the UK and Republic of Ireland for a new GP contractor to provide General Medical Services to patients of the practice. The contract will be advertised during March 2016 and we expect the outcome of this process to be known by the end of May 2016.”

Stating that patients have been sent letters regarding the doctor’s impending retirement and the due process for his replacement, the spokesperson added: “The Board….has asked patients to continue to support the practice in the meanwhile and both Dr Fee and the Board would assure them that the practice will continue to provide the full range of General Medical Services until his retirement.”

Politicians have rallied to offer their support with local SDLP representatives praising the beleaguered doctor for his endeavour and resilience.

The party’s MLAs Karen McKevitt and Dominic Bradley MLA, along with Councillor Pete Byrne were present at a meeting Dr. Fee held earlier this month with Dr. Sloan Harper, Chief Executive of the Health and Social Care Board and Sophie Lusby of the Southern Local Commissioning Group, where he advised them of his intention to resign.

Describing the GP as “outstanding and extremely popular”, Mrs McKevitt said: “Dr Fee has been consistently raising concerns about the inability to attract a new permanent GP into [Crossmaglen] since the early part of last year.  He previously advised the Health and Social Care Board that he could no longer continue in post in June 2015 but was persuaded to remain on the promise of additional support and resources, however despite all the pledges, we are no further forward.

“[In the current circumstances] he just cannot continue to provide the standard of health care he has been providing for the last 24 years.  We are all too aware of the shortage of GPs across the North and rural communities like Crossmaglen are feeling the brunt.”

Councillor Pete Byrne pointed out that Dr Fee “ has given his all” to the community and his decision to retire would not have been taken lightly.

“The news that Dr Fee has announced his retirement will come as no surprise to this community. Local people know the outstanding service he provides, but are also acutely aware of the pressure the health service is under locally,” he said.

Meanwhile Dominic Bradley promised his party will continue to work with Dr. Fee and his staff to ensure the high quality of service at Rathkeeland House is maintained.

“We have been given clear assurances that every effort will be made to have [the replacement GP recruitment] process completed before the end of June, and if that means the Health and Social Care Board stepping in and taking over the practice until a permanent solution is in place, then that will happen,” Mr Bradley said.

This does little, however, to quell the anxiety now felt by many of Dr. Fee’s patients regarding the future of their GP care.