The absence of an executive should not stop health officials from helping GPs who are faced with caring for thousands of extra patients within weeks, it has been claimed.
The Department of Health has provided no guarantee that GP services in the south west of Northern Ireland will not be affected by the impending closure of Dromore and Trillick Surgery.
There are growing fears that the closure of the practice in Co Tyrone at the end of the month could cause a domino effect, pushing already overburdened medical practices in surrounding areas to breaking point – potentially leaving thousands of patients unable to to access a family doctor.
The South West GP Federation has yet to receive any of the tens of millions of pounds of funding made available to help stabilize primary care services across Northern Ireland.
Almost £50m has been allocated to some GP federations to pay for setting up multidisciplinary teams (MDTs) since 2018.
The PCT program has been hailed as an important step in improving access to primary care services and patient outcomes, as well as reducing the workload of general practitioners.
The Belfast Telegraph has asked the Department of Health why the South West Federation of General Practitioners has not yet received MDT funding and when funding will be made available for the establishment of multidisciplinary teams.
He also asked why GP practices in surrounding areas had not yet been told if they were to accept new patients after Dromore and Trillick Surgery closed, and what financial support was available to surrounding practices.
A spokeswoman for the Department of Health said: “Intensive efforts are continuing to find a contractor to take over GP services at Dromore and Trillick practice.
“Dr. Declan Morgan has been the sole contract holder for Dromore and Trillick Practice since July 1, 2020.
“His notice period runs until June 30, 2022 and patients should continue to contact the practice as usual.
“The Department of Health is engaging with all stakeholders to explore all available avenues to maintain the practice.
“The Department has a legal responsibility to ensure that all patients can access GP services. Therefore, if a contractor for the Dromore and Trillick practice cannot be identified, the Department will have no choice but to disperse patients registered with the Dromore and Trillick practice to the GP. practices in the area to ensure they can continue to access services.
“We would like to thank the patients for their continued patience and support of the staff during this time.”
In March, Health Minister Robin Swann announced that the South West GP Federation, which represents 20 medical practices covering Omagh and Fermanagh with a combined patient population of over 125,000, was to receive funding in the next round of rewards.
This has yet to happen and it is understood the delay has been blamed on the lack of clarity in the NHS budget.
However, Sinn Fein MP Colm Gildernew said additional funding needed to be secured urgently to ensure more medical practices are not pushed to the brink of closure in the coming months.
“This issue is not controversial, it is not cross-cutting and the announcement was made before the collapse of the Assembly so I do not see why the minister cannot make this funding available”, a- he declared.
“Practices that will need to take on additional patients are already stretched to the limit, they are not well placed to take on additional patients, and that is why MDT funding is so important because the practices involved will benefit from the support from other professional health services.”
Under the PCT program, a range of healthcare professionals work alongside medical practices, including social workers, physiotherapists, pharmacists and nurses.