Western Urgent Care is struggling to provide a full GP out-of-hours service in the Londonderry area due to increasing demand and staff are being shuffled around to fill shifts in order to protect patient safety.
That’s according to the Health Minister Simon Hamilton, who has acknowledged the vital out-of-hours doctor service is under increasing pressure.
“Like all out-of-hours providers, Western Urgent Care faces increasing challenges in providing a full service due to increasing demand and difficulty in filling shifts,” he said.
“Although Western Urgent Care aims to provide a service at all bases 7 days a week, increasing demand and difficulty filling shifts means that at times it is necessary to consolidate and prioritise resources in the interests of patient and staff safety.
“When a GP is unavailable at a local base, Western Urgent Care will seek to move a GP from another base to carry out a booked appointments session and so to ensure that patients can continue to be seen locally.
“Patients contacting the service after a booked appointments session may be asked to attend another base. “Home visits continue to be carried out as normal where clinically necessary.
“Western Urgent Care and the Health and Social Care Board have taken steps to increase GP capacity and fill shifts,” he continued.
He made the revelation when pressed by outgoing Sinn Féin MLA Maeve McLaughlin.
She wanted to know how “gaps in this service can be remedied.”
Mr Hamilton said one way is by GPs providing additional clinical time via booked appointments for a 2.5 hour period for five evenings during the week.
“This service has been put in place in the Altnagelvin base as Western Urgent Care have identified this base as having the highest demand. Supporting GPs in the Altnagelvin base to address current demands helps minimise the number of times that GPs in the other 4 centres in the Western area are moved from their respective centres,” he said.
“As well as its core funding, Western Urgent Care has also been provided with additional funding in 2015/16 to support additional clinical capacity where greatest demand is identified during Out of Hours.
“Additional funding has also been made available to support more Bank Holiday clinical capacity, develop OOH skills mix and to respond to winter pressures, including the costs associated with a ‘second Easter’ occurring in the 2015/16 financial year,” he added.
He said local GPs are also being actively sought for work in their OOH centres.
“Other initiatives and actions undertaken to support OOHs in the Western area have included actively seeking the support of GPs in the Western area to work a number of sessions in their local OOHs centre, liaising with members of the Local Medical Committee to encourage GPs to work out of hours in their local centre and recruiting more nursing staff to ensure that the pool of Nurse Advisors is sufficient to fill all telephone triage shifts,” he said.
Mr Hamilton also said he has released additional funding during peak periods to help OOH providers including Western Urgent Care.
“Across Northern Ireland my Department and the Health and Social Care Board have been working with Out of Hours providers to address the challenges facing the service.
“In 2014/15, an additional £1.5m was invested to support the provision of GP Out of Hours services. Building on this, in 2015/16 an additional £3.1m has been made available to help build capacity in GP Out of Hours services. A further £1.1m has been made available to help out of hours providers meet increased demand for services over the winter months and the Easter period.
“My Department has been leading a review of GP Out of Hours services across Northern Ireland. The review will identify good practice and opportunities to improve service provision within existing resources,” said Mr Hamilton.