Newspaper for Crossmaglen, South Armagh, Newry and Down.

Staff and patients unite in campaign to keep GP

Official notification from the Health and Social Care Board, received by the patients of Dr. Patrick Fee’s GP practice in Crossmaglen on Friday last, that locum doctors are to take over their primary care from the end of this month, has prompted hundreds to speak out in support of the popular doctor and mount an orchestrated campaign to retain his services in the town.

Last month Dr. Fee tendered his resignation, claiming that the impending departure of his practice partner, Dr. Neal Walker, and attempts to secure adequate locum GP cover proving fruitless, coupled with the non-replacement of Trust-employed nursing staff, left his position to deliver adequate care to his patients untenable.

There is little doubt among his 3,500+ patients that, were it not for the anomalous situation in which he has been placed, he would never have considered resigning.  It is his utmost regard for his patients, and to ensure they are receiving proper medical care, that he has taken this wholly altruistic decision.  And although commendable, it has sparked anger and concern among the wider community.

Staff and patients have rallied together in recent days, garnering support for a campaign to have Dr. Fee remain in the practice he began more than 25 years ago. A ‘Save Rathkeeland House Surgery’ page on Facebook has been inundated with messages of support and personal recollections of how he has delivered exceptional and unrivalled care to them and their families.

A number of patients contacted The Examiner to detail their personal experiences of how Dr. Fee has consistently gone above and beyond the duties expected of him and have appealed to the HSC to provide the necessary requirements needed for him to continue.

Jerome Burns has been a patient of Dr. Fee for more than 20 years and says the situation is “the biggest crisis to befall this area in many years”.

“Access to a fit for purpose local health system is a basic right.  Indeed, it is one of the factors taken into account by analysts when measuring deprivation, and this area, which has already suffered so much over the past 40 years, now finds itself in a position where it is being further disadvantaged,” Mr Burns said.

“The Fee family has been synonymous with serving the community for many generations. The late Dr Pat Fee Snr and John Fee MLA served as GP and elected representative respectively and Dr Pat Fee Jnr has continued this tradition.  His decision to resign appears to have been a selfless gesture taken in the interests of his patients and it is ironic, therefore, that a worse scenario than that which he sought to avert by offering his resignation, is now being allowed to materialise.

It is simply unacceptable that this community will be denied the services of a physician with the experience and dedication of Dr Fee and will instead be served by locums, which is a much more costly solution. It is akin to sacking all the teachers in a school and replacing them with supply teachers.

“I am convinced that with the offer of adequate assistance, Dr Fee could be persuaded to withdraw his resignation and I would urge the Health Trust and anyone else who might have influence, to work with all parties to ensure that Dr Fee can remain in the Practice and continue to serve the community.

“This time last year, Dr Fee had succeeded in uniting the community as never before to fundraise for a scanner for his Practice. The community was fully mobilised and we even had the situation where Joe Kernan and members of Crossmaglen Rangers were promoting and selling tickets for a fundraising concert in Silverbridge.  The scanner would have enabled Dr Fee to extend and enhance the health provision to those in his care.  It is sad, therefore, that in less than 12 months, the community has to unite and mobilise once more in order to save the practice.”

Another patient, Miceal Moley, says he and his family have been very lucky to be under Dr Fee’s care and are very concerned with the present situation.

“Dr Fee is truly a ‘family’ doctor in every respect and this has been articulated by many over the past few months with regards his dedication and care of and for his patients,” Mr Moley said.

“Losing a doctor who has always been so dedicated, caring and has treated his position as a true vocation regarding my children, parents and ourselves is very sad and worrying.   Upset, annoyed and angry are some of the emotions that we feel and that the HSC are neglecting my family’s care and also that of the people of Crossmaglen and surrounding area.

“It would appear that there does not seem to be any strategy for this area.  Three doctors are now leaving their positions in the local area and this coupled with the uncertainty over the treatment room service in the health centre, all adds up to a very worrying time,” he added.

Another of Dr. Fee’s patients has placed the blame for the situation squarely with the HSC and says everything possible must be done to ensure Dr. Fee remains: “Although it is with great sadness that I, as a patient of Dr Fee, have learned of his resignation, the uppermost feeling I have is one of immense anger towards the Health and Social Care Board in that it has obviously caused the problem which has led to Dr Fee making such a major and life changing decision. This decision will impact not only on Dr Fee but particularly on the patients of his practice.  We are blessed to have a GP of his calibre.  His attention to duty and care of his patients is legendry. When his day’s work is over in the surgery he visits his terminally ill patients and anyone else whom he thinks needs his personal care and attention.  He is an outstanding doctor whose dedication and commitment to his patients goes far and beyond the call of duty – his is not just a job but one which evokes the true meaning of the word vocation.  It is a well-known fact that he is forever reading and educating himself on new illnesses, therapies and treatments for his patients.  Just last year he had the vision to see that if there was a scanner available for use in his practice it would greatly help his patients by providing early detection and prognosis as well as saving his patients the long wait for appointments to have scanning done in hospital – not counting the saving on travelling time, cost and discomforts because of the geographical location of his patients.

“We patients have received a letter from the Health and Social Care Board to say that they will put locum GPs in place until December 2105.  What will happen after that?  A locum might be acceptable if there were still a partner in place to oversee the health, care and legal requirements of the practice but this is not the case here.  What does this mean for the excellent and caring Nurse Marian, Kathleen, the excellent Practice Manager and her very courteous staff? Are their jobs secure? The Health and Social Care Board only seem to be thinking as far as December and do not appear to be giving any guarantees.

“I believe that all the patients in this practice should do everything in their power to intervene and prevent this cessation of Dr Fee’s contract.  Every patient who is unhappy with this should contact the Health and Social Care Board staff on 028 9536 2034.”

The HSC says it will advertise the contract for the Practice to seek a replacement GP but, in the meantime, will recruit locum doctors to deliver care to patients until the end of December, after which it is unclear what will happen to the Practice and its 3,500 patients.

To follow progress on the ‘Save Rathkeeland House Surgery’ visit its Facebook page for full and updated information.