Warning almost 5,000 GP patients will be left in limbo if Derry practice closes

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Derry and Strabane’s Health and Community committee have called for the Western Trust and Department of Health to do all they can to ensure the future of the Racecourse Medical Practice in Shantallow is assured after the practice handed back their contract to provide GP services.

A Special Council meeting will also be held to hear from specific responsible individuals in the Department of Health, local GP leaders and representatives of all the staff in the practice.

The matter was raised by SDLP councillor Brian Tierney who said: “There’s almost 5,000 patients registered currently in Racecourse Medical Practice and as many people will know the Ballyarnett DEA is one of the fastest growing areas across this council district, if not across the North.

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“Ballyarnett is an area where we need improved services in every aspect of public life and to have the threat of this GP practice being taken out of our area is something which is causing a lot of distress and anxiety for patients.”

Racecourse GP practice is based at Shantallow Health Centre.Racecourse GP practice is based at Shantallow Health Centre.
Racecourse GP practice is based at Shantallow Health Centre.

The Ballyarnett councillor spoke of the concerns people are experiencing as they worry about the prospect of having to find a new GP.

He continued: “The Department for Health put out three options, in my view two should not be considered. One was that the Western Health and Social Care Trust would continue to run the service up until six months after the contract is handed back and then the patients would be dispatched to other practices. We need to find a GP to take on this contract and to ensure that the Racecourse Medical Group stays within the heart of Shantallow.

“There is a growing concern that we don’t have a Minister for Health who we can write to and encourage them to do all they can to support this practice and the people of Shantallow. The reality is we need to do all we can to support people. This council and people across this community are being handcuffed because we have no Executive at Stormont.”

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“We need to implore the Department for Health to sidestep the process and ensure this service remains at the heart of Shantallow.”

SDLP Colr. Brian Tierney.  DER2121GS – 020SDLP Colr. Brian Tierney.  DER2121GS – 020
SDLP Colr. Brian Tierney. DER2121GS – 020

Councillor Tierney proposed that council ‘call for the Western Trust and Department for Health to do all they can to ensure the GP surgery remains in Shantallow and expresses concerns at the prospect of 4,821 patients having to seek alternative surgeries which will place further pressures on GP practices in the city’.

Agreeing that ‘people are very afraid’, Aontú councillor Emmet Doyle commented: “Let’s be clear, whilst this practice is at the heart of Shantallow there are people from across this city who are patients at Racecourse.

“This is a GP service but we also have to look at all the link services that could be affected if the Department of Health doesn’t get their finger out.”

“I genuinely believe the Department for Health have dropped the ball on this because the main reason for it is one of the practice leads is retiring.

Aontú Colr. Emmet Doyle.Aontú Colr. Emmet Doyle.
Aontú Colr. Emmet Doyle.

“It doesn’t take a brain surgeon to work out that someone of a certain age in a profession like this is going to retire at a certain age. How they didn’t know this was coming is beyond me.”

Councillor Doyle proposed an amendment that a Special Council meeting be held to hear from the Department of Health, local GP leaders and representatives of all the staff in the practice.

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Representatives from all parties supported the original proposal and amendment with People Before Profit councillor Shaun Harkin describing the GP services in the Racecourse practice as ‘a vital community resource we can’t afford to lose’.

He said: “We have to fight to protect this service. I think people in the community are going to be the key in saving this practice.”

SDLP councillor Rory Farrell added: “The Department of Health needs to step in, they can’t allow this vital service in Ballyarnett to disappear. People need clarity that this service is going to be maintained.”

Concluding the discussion, Independent councillor Gary Donnelly said: “It’s important that we as a council fight and fight hard to make sure this situation is resolved.”

The substantive motion passed unanimously.

Gillian Anderson

Local Democracy Reporter