Newspaper for Crossmaglen, South Armagh, Newry and Down.

Calls for review of Out of Hours service as figures reveal bases closed hundreds of times

There have been calls for a fundamental review of the GP Out of Hours service in the Southern Trust amid revelations that bases across the region have been closed to the public hundreds of times in recent months.

Speaking to The Examiner about the issue,  SDLP MLA Justin McNulty claimed that Out of Hours centres across the Southern Trust have been closed a staggering 347 times in the last eight months.

“Too often people from Armagh and Kilkeel are being told that the local Out of Hours Base is closed due to lack of medical cover and they have been directed to go to Craigavon, Dungannon or Newry,” explained the SDLP Assembly Member.

Revealing the closure figures, he added, “The Kilkeel base was closed 104 times, Dungannon 91, Armagh 77, Craigavon 39 and Newry 36 times over the period January to August.  The ironic fact is that Dungannon has a Minor Injuries Unit, Craigavon and Newry have Emergency Departments whereas Armagh and Kilkeel are left with nothing. This is simply not acceptable.”

Calling for the service to be a “stand-alone” facility, Mr McNulty said he believes the problem remains that Out of Hours is dependent on GPs, “many of whom have already completed a day’s work in their own surgery to come and operate the out of hours service.”

“We need to get to the point where the service is standalone and lets GPs do their day jobs, and have a quota or directly recruited GPs dedicated to running an out of hours service so that it is functional at all times.  This is something which must be reviewed as a priority,” he added.

In response to the closure claims, the Southern Trust insisted that the service itself has remained operational at all times despite some bases being temporarily closed due to ongoing staffing pressures being experienced across the Trust.

“The Southern Trust GP Out of Hours service has never been closed to residents in this area,” a Southern Trust spokesperson maintained.

“As a phone-based service, patients must always phone first and the phone lines are always open at evenings and weekends.

“During those times when a GP Out of Hours centre is closed due to the ongoing challenge of securing enough clinical cover for all shifts, patients are still able to get telephone advice, home visits continue to take place and appointments are provided at the nearest available GP out of hours base, if required.”