A LOCAL doctor says he is seriously considering handing in his letter of resignation and believes many of his colleagues will do likewise, as the crisis hitting GP practices continues to deepen.
Dr Brendan O’Hare, who is based in Castlederg, says the widespread resignation of doctors could result in private health care, where patients in Tyrone and right across the North will have to pay for their doctor appointments.
Last week, the union representing doctors – British Medical Association (BMA) – voted in favour of the drastic action.
Speaking to the Chronicle Dr O’Hare said many of his fellow professionals have been left with no choice.
He also pointed to the collapse of the Stormont Executive as a tipping point, as any proposed solutions appear to be suspended in limbo.
“This is the last resort, yes, I am considering handing my resignation and I know a good many of my colleagues here in Tyrone who are in a much more serious position are of a similar mind,” he said. “It’s a last resort, we have no other options left at this point.
“If we do nothing, then we are going to lose GP practices right across the country and here in Tyrone too.
“Resigning is the last thing that any doctor wants to do, but this is what it has come to now.”
Increased workloads and the difficulty in recruiting new GPs to rural practices – including many in Tyrone – has seen medics facing an unprecedented level of pressure.
Prior to the crisis in the Assembly, the Health Minister Michelle O’Neill said the number of GP training places was planned to increase to 111 by 2018/19, a year ahead of a working group’s recommendation.
Just last year, Castlederg amalgamated with Newtownstewart and Ederney as the latter two practices were plunged into crisis by a lack of doctors.
“At the moment things are not too bad, we have nine doctors, but we do not know what is coming.
“Last year, saw the lowest ever number of applications by young people seeking to become GPs in the history of Northern Ireland – they know the serious stress and workload associated with this as a career.”
Dr O’Hare added, “I want to make it clear, that this is not about pay, I believe that our salaries are good, but the conditions and stress which we are expected to work under are not acceptable anymore.”
Outlining the scale and urgency of the crisis Tom Black from the BMA told the Chronicle, “It has been well documented that general practice is on the brink in every county in Northern Ireland and particularly in the western counties of Tyrone, Derry and Fermanagh. In Tyrone there is particularly large number of rural practices and the reality is that many of these will close unless urgent action is taken and that seems more unlikely.
“One of the big problems is that in Tyrone, Fermanagh and Derry around 25 per-cent of doctors are over the age of 55 and unless they are replaced, then practices will close. And new qualified doctors do not want to take up positions in rural practices as they are fearful that they will not have the support or back-up to deal with the workload, that is available in larger GP practises in bigger towns”.
Mr Black said the resignations were “very real” and would be implemented if 60 per-cent of doctors decided to take part.