Concerns grow after Cullybackey Medical Practice hands back contract
Concerns are continuing to grow in communities across Ballymena, and wider Northern Ireland population after Cullybackey Health Centre (Tobar Park) became the 15th surgery to hand back it's contract in the space of a year.
The move by the local practice will impact over 7,000 patients and comes on the back of questions around a number of other practices in the Ballymena area.
A spokesperson for the Department of Health spokesperson said:
"The Department of Health (DoH) can confirm that GPs at Cullybackey Health Centre have given notice of their intention to withdraw from their contract to deliver General Medical Services at the end of the notice period in six months’ time, their contract will end on 30th November 2023.
"DoH will now begin a process to secure alternative arrangements for these services.A number of different options are available to ensure patients are not left without a GP service.
"The preferred option is to secure a GP contractor – or grouping of GPs – to take over the practice through a formal recruitment process. In some circumstances, Health and Social Care Trusts can take over a GP contract as an interim solution.
"We want to reassure patients that the existing Cullybackey Health Centre will continue to retain the contract to deliver GP services for the next six months. Patients at the practice do not need to take any action. They should continue to contact the practice as normal. We will be writing out to all practice patients to keep them informed as this process begins.
"The Department acknowledges the ongoing and significant pressures on GP practices, stemming from the fact that demand for their services is outstripping capacity to provide it.Notwithstanding budgetary pressures, the Department is committed to building the GP workforce.
"We have made significant progress in relation to the number of GPs we train each year. The number of GP training places in Northern Ireland has been increased by 70% from 2015 levels in recent years. The review of places is ongoing and the Department will consider recommendations from the review of training places in the future.
"The Department has also recently streamlined the processes for GPs who qualified in a number of countries to take up roles in Northern Ireland."
Commenting on this latest news Dr Alan Stout, BMA NI GP committee chair said:
“This is becoming an increasingly desperate situation for general practice in Northern Ireland, its staff and the patients we care for.
“Such is the speed and number of these contract hand-backs – 15 in the past year alone, affecting tens of thousands of patients – that this is in danger of becoming ‘the norm’. This is far from a normal situation and is hugely significant for all patients, staff, GPs and the local communities they serve.
"The risks to other neighbouring practices of a list dispersal are even more destabilising. This practice will not be the last to fall and is the fourth practice in this locale to hand back its contract. General practice and wider primary care is the most basic function of any health service, accessed by many thousands every single day. If it fails, then the whole NHS will fail.
“Urgent action needs to be taken now to save general practice before we are past the point of no return. In the short term that means stabilising workloads, correcting funding allocations to meet current demand, removing disproportionate admin requirements and finally addressing indemnity rates.
"Long term, we have a workforce crisis that needs meaningful action and the required funding. New GPs are coming through, but this number is not keeping up with the amount of older GPs we are losing to retirement and burnout.”
North Antrim MP Ian Paisley responded to today's latest development, saying:
"The announcement today that Cullybackey GP is the latest to hand back its contract is unfortunately almost predictable. As I said last week, GP services are going through a radical shake up that is causing anxiety for thousands of patients.
"I have arranged a number of meetings with providers and health officials to see if there is anyway we can help resolve this situation in an amicable way similar to how the Kells practice was saved".