Newspaper for Crossmaglen, South Armagh, Newry and Down.

Southern Trust responds to claims of ‘broken’ Out-of-Hours service

The Southern Health and Social Care Trust has said it recognises that the current Out-of-Hours GP service in the area is under severe pressure but blamed misuse by patients as part of the problem.  Responding to claims made by an Out-of-Hours Doctor that the service is “broken” and that people are being put at risk with one doctor often covering so-called “red eye shifts” for the entire area, Director of Older People and Primary Care, Angela McVeigh said that, whilst she recognised the pressures, she also stressed that too many people are misusing the out-of-hours service which is only intended for emergencies.

The Trust Director also pointed out that nurses are available to provide triage and the Marie Curie service is available overnight to provide a service to patients.

Many of the callers are taking doctors away from urgent cases, said Angela McVeigh.

“A lot of the contacts would not be for urgent care – some are for minor ailments such as headlice, cold sores even hangovers,” she said.

“We are asking the public to think carefully when they dial the number and to think of other services that might be available to them.”

Her comments came after Out-of-Hours doctor, Dr Frances O’Hagan, revealed the extent of the problems within the service.  The GP said patients are being denied a proper service and that doctors are not able to provide the type of service they want to because of the lack of doctors available to provide cover.

Describing the service as broken, Dr O’Hagan highlighted a recent six night period (from 22-27 August), where one doctor covered the midnight to 8am shifts – which is are usually covered by 3 GPs – for the entire health trust, a population of some 300,000 people.

The GP revealed that working an Out-of-Hours shift can mean covering from Kilkeel to Pomeroy, and up to Moira, entirely alone, and that while the doctor is making house calls, there can often be 100 telephone calls to deal with as well.

She cited a recent “nightmare” shift she covered where, as the only doctor on call, she had to deal with three serious mental health cases simultaneously.  Each case involved police and social services and took over an hour to process.  At the same time the out-of-hours service was backed up with calls regarding temperatures in children, palliative care cases and nursing home patients.

Several doctors state it is more common for a GP to be working alone on the red-eye shift than with colleagues and figures obtained by the BBC show that 47 out-of-hours shifts were unfilled from 22-27 August this year.

GPs believe the workload is also having a detrimental effect on their own health as many are expected into surgery the morning after a hectic overnight out-of-hours shift.