Members of Derry and Strabane’s Health and Community Committee were told there were ‘contractual issues with the GPs’ and in some cases there are ‘GPs who have never worked in the out of hours service’.
Deborah Ward, Western Urgent Care General Manager and Dr. Lee Casey, Medical Manager made a presentation to the committee on the work being undertaken.
Ms Ward explained that there hasn’t been a contractual requirement to do out of hours work for GPs since 2008 and that was putting pressure on the service.
“We have worked out that if each practice was to commit a small amount of hours each month, even if it was pro-rata based on the size of the practice, and they committed to work on the rota, that would make a significant impact for us and a significant amount of our shifts would be filled on that basis.
“We have pushed the Board for some time that there should be a contractual element but that would have to go through the BMA (British Medical Association), the GMC (General Medical Council), the Board (Western Health Trust) and Department of Health with regards to any change of contracts but there have been conversations going on for quite some time,” she added.
A number of councillors expressed their concerns at this situation.
Independent Councillor Raymond Barr said:“Would it be fair to say the demands of in-hours work would not be a big issue at the minute for GPs?
“When you look at the fact that face to face meetings with patients have been greatly reduced, the problem is mainly a case of GPs choosing not to work out of hours, in which case I feel there should be a statutory compulsion on GPs to do a percentage of out of hours work.”
Sinn Féin Councillor Sandra Duffy agreed with Councillor Barr adding: “I think that is causing a deficit in an already stretched system.”
A number of councillors were optimistic the Medical School could help alleviate some of the pressures on the service. However, the news wasn’t quite what they wanted to hear.
SDLP Councillor Steven Edwards said: “There’s a massive issue around recruiting GPs across the north west and it would be my hope that the Medical School in Derry will help a bit with that in the future.”
Ms Ward said: “The news about the Medical School has been greatly welcomed. Once student doctors move into the local area they usually settle in that area and we are hopeful by the time they spend a number of years working and training at the Medical School in the City that they will make their roots here and commit to working here.
“However, it’s about 10 years before you would see them come through all their qualifications and studies. So it would be about 10 years before the first group will come through.”
Ms Ward informed councillors that Western Urgent Care doesn’t just deal with the local population, they also look after the visiting population, and have an interpretation service and have a number of ways of supporting minority groups.
Concluding, she said: “We cover an area with over 300,000, it’s not just the Derry and Strabane area, we also provide for some patients along the border.
“We know in terms of our service we will never be able to provide the type of service, at the time, the location and in the way every single person wants but we do our best every single day to try and ensure we can meet the needs of as many of the patients as we can.”