Politicians press for action on out-of-hours service

Thursday, 11 May 2017

LOCAL politicians have met with health officials to press for urgent action following renewed concerns and complaints over the lack of a proper GP out-of-hours service in the town.
Both Sinn Féin and the SDLP have held separate meetings with service provider representatives, including Eugene Dunn, Western Urgent Care general manager, to discuss the issue.
In recent years, the provision of the service has been a major issue of complaint with both patients and councillors criticisng the non-availability of medics at Strabane Health Centre in times of need, particularly in the evenings and at weekends.
There have also been regular stories of people - including the elderly and parents with young children - having to travel to other medical centres or A&E departments outside of the town for treatment.
For its part, the Western Urgent Care says that, like other providers, its service is under extreme pressure due to demand and an increasing difficulty in getting doctors to fill shifts.
Speaking after she and party councillors presented a file of over 100 complaints at their meeting, Sinn Féin MLA., Michaela Boyle, said there was an acknowledgment from health officials that there is a gap in the service.
Ms Boyle said that during the meeting with representatives from the Western Health and Social Care Board and Local Commissioning Group there was a "frank exchange of views".
"This is not the first and no doubt will not be the last meeting we will have on the problem of gaps in out-of-hour provision cover in Strabane. This has been a perennial problem for years and prior to the meeting, councillor Karina Carlin conducted an exercise through social media asking people for their views on the provision and within a short number of days received more than 100 replies from local people outlining their or a family member's inability to access the service when needed.
"And, we all as elected representatives were able to add to this list outlining the negative stories that have been brought to our attention by local constituents," she told this newspaper.

"In presenting this quantitative and qualitive evidence, we secured an acknowledgement from the Board official that there were gaps in the out-of-hours service locally. The official said that it was due to difficulties in recruiting and retaining the necessary qualified medical professionals to operate the service at full capacity."
Mrs Boyle said that a number of "additional action points" had been agreed at the meeting such as the further promotion of additional incentives to attract more medical professionals to the service.
She added that her party had agreed to the completion of a case file with a more in-depth detailing of local complaints which in turn will be formally submitted to the Board.
The party will also be writing to GPs in the local practices to ascertain their views on how the service could be better supported and what role they can play in helping to further support the service.
"While we are under no illusions that there can be a quick fix solution to the ongoing problems with out-of-hours, we hope that by everyone working together on this that the situation can see improvement in the near future," she said.
SDLP West Tyrone MLA., Daniel McCrossan, met with Mr Dunn separately. He described the current service as a "postcode lottery" and claimed that only 40 per-cent cover is provided in the town on a weekly basis.
He added that whilst the meeting was constructive, he now intends to take the issue further to the Health and Social Care Board (HSCB) and to the Permanent Secretary of the Department of Health to find a long-term solution.
"The meeting was constructive but it did confirm my fears that Strabane is the worst affected area across the Western Trust with Omagh, Limavady, Foyle and Enniskillen all having greater cover. I highlighted people's concerns and the fact that this postcode lottery for out-of-hours service must stop and adequate resources needs invested in the Strabane area urgently," he said.
"It's clear that there are other issues around recruitment and these need to be brought to the decision-makers and the commissioners of health services. That is why I have requested an urgent meeting with the chief executive of the Health and Social Care Board and the Permanent Secretary of the Department of Health. I will not let the issue lie as people here deserve better. 
"Local GPs are working under immense and intolerable pressures - we have to recognise that. It is also my intention to intensify engagement with local GP practices regarding their concerns."



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