Derry councillors call for change to GP face-to-face policy to allow more doctor-patient one-to-ones
Derry City & Strabane Councillors have voted in favour of a motion to write to the Department of Health and the British Medical Association to call for a change to the current policy that is preventing access to one-to-one GP services.
A number of councillors raised concerns expressed by many constituents about the lack of face-to-face services with the situation being described as ‘in crisis’.
Independent Councillor Paul Gallagher brought forward the motion saying: “I have been inundated with representation from all types of people and there is a really massive difficulty in getting access to GP services.
“There are people going undiagnosed and I’ve seen a number of people who have been trying to get GP services for the past year and they have found themselves with cancer and there is no return because it has gone too far.
“We have a child in Strabane who was desperately sick for quite a period, couldn’t get access to a GP and then ended up in the Royal Victoria Hospital extremely ill.
“This policy of GPs not doing face-to-face needs to change. We are sitting at the front of a real clinical health emergency if this policy does not change and this council needs to step up and say we are supporting our citizens. There needs to be some change of policy before it becomes a matter of no return.”
The proposal called for council to write to ‘the Department of Health, Minister Robin Swann and the British Medical Association Chairman Tom Black to immediately change this policy that is blocking access to many in this City and District to the life saving services that are currently being denied.’
DUP Alderman Hilary McClintock backed Colr. Gallagher’s motion saying: “The number of people who are in crisis situations now because they can’t get access to a GP is spiralling out of control and a knock on effect is our A&E is overwhelmed in many cases.
“We have a real crisis building up in our health services at the minute and it’s something we all know that we need greater resources put into.
“Short term we certainly need more one to one, face-to-face meetings with doctors. You can only diagnose so much over a phone and it isn’t working for our people.”
SDLP Councillor Jason Barr and UUP Alderman Derek Hussey felt part of the problem lay with the triaging system.
Colr. Barr said: “I know doctors have been seeing some people but not all. We do have to commend doctors for their work during this pandemic as well.
“To me, the fault sometimes seems to lie, and I’m not blaming the secretaries at all, but it’s the triaging and the responsibility of the secretaries to triage some patients seems to be a problem which also needs to be addressed."
UUP Alderman Derek Hussey agreed with Colr. Barr adding: “With regards to the people who are answering the phones, there is that sort of thing that they think they are there to protect the doctors from their patients. That should not be the case.
“We need access to those who can talk to us, who know our situations, it has to be sorted out as to how we have that access because it is not working at this moment in time.”
Sperrin Independent Councillor Raymond Barr called for the council to bring both GPs and Western Urgent Care into the Chamber at the one time.
He said: “The problem between GPs not seeing patients face-to-face and the problems with out of hours is linked for the simple reason GPs are using, for want of a better word, the excuse that they are over worked at the minute so they can’t service out of hours which I don’t accept. The problem with out of hours existed long before Covid.”
People Before Profit Councillor Maeve O’Neill, herself a healthcare worker, spoke of the crisis facing the health service.
“This crisis in our GP and health care service is a result of the underfunding and understaffing of our health care service. A lot of people who are trying to attend these GP appointments are people who are having to manage their chronic conditions by themselves because they are on waiting lists for years and years.”
SDLP Councillor Angela Dobbins took ‘umbrage’ at comments made about the doctors’ secretaries.
“Don’t forget these secretaries are taking the calls, there are x amount of appointments that could be filled up in the first half hour and they also are getting verbally abused by members of the public,” she said. “Even if you are sick you don’t have a right to abuse those secretaries, it's not the secretaries' fault, it is the system that's at fault.”
Her party colleague Steven Edwards added that the situation was also ‘a massive issue in the rural areas’.
Alliance Councillor Phillip McKinney agreed ‘there’s a distinct lack of doctors’, explaining: “There are some nights the on-call doctor would have to cover from Limavady across to Castlederg and it can take up to two hours to deal with one patient. We are short of doctors and that is the crux of the matter.”
Waterside Councillor Sean Mooney, whose wife is a full time GP, abstained from the motion saying: “Just to highlight from what I understand what my wife does, she does see patients face-to-face everyday.
“My understanding of the triage system is that once any calls come through for her that she will ring the patients and then she would bring them into the practice.
“Just to say that the GPs aren’t seeing patients is probably wrong because she does see patients on a face-to-face basis every day of the week. She also goes out on the weekends to see patients who are in nursing homes because she is committed to her job.”
Summing up, Councillor Gallagher said: “This motion is about changing the policy not about accusing doctors - some are following the policy, some are not. Some patients do get access but the vast majority don’t because doctors are following the policy. This isn’t about having a go at doctors or frontline workers, it’s about changing the policy.”