There was some concern last weekend that there was limited OOH GP cover at the Downe Hospital catchement area.
As local people fear an inequitable delivery of services such as growing concerns over the closure of the Downe A&E not being restored, Down News therefore asked the South Eastern HSC Trust to clarify the situation around this aspect of health provision around GP OOH cover.
The Trust website says services is as per normal. However, a member of the public has queried that there was no out-of-hours GP cover at the Downe from midnight last night (Friday).
A Trust spokesperson has confirm that “there was cover in place for the GP OOH cover for the Down locality during the overnight period even if there is no doctor in the centre.
“The GP Out of Hours service operates as a telephone access service. We do not encourage patients to visit one of our centres without contacting in advance as we have found that this often leads to patients attending a service which is inappropriate for their needs.
“GP OOH Service is not an emergency service – we deal with urgent problems which cannot wait until GP surgeries reopen but which need addressed within 6 hours.
“We do not provide a walk-in service and we are grateful to patients for their increased cooperation with this guidance.
There was no service drop off the spokesperson said, adding: “There was the appropriate level of cover for the overnight period given this is a telephone access service and patients are clinical assessed and prioritised accordingly. If a patient needed to be assessed they would have been offered an appointment.
“This means that there will not always be a doctor or nurse physically present in all centres at all times.
“Telephone calls will always be returned in a timely manner especially for urgent conditions – often within a few minutes and face to face consultations are available if required at a time suitable for the patient.
“This may occasionally mean either a patient or a doctor travelling to another area, but this can easily be managed within our target timescale.
“The ongoing GP workforce crisis is an important factor for all Out of Hours Service providers to maintain consistent rota cover.
“Therefore we continually review our staffing needs across the week to prioritise workload and to maintain capacity at peak time.
“We have therefore reduced staffing on our overnight shift to improve cover at other times. We have allowed the doctor to work in any of the three centres to improve our overnight cover trust wide.“
Down News also asked if the Down area was covered from Lisburn by the OOH service ?
“We have worked with this number of staff on many occasions in recent months and there have been no issues with patients accessing the service or receiving treatment in a timely manner.
“The overnight workload is significantly lower so there is a need to deploy medical resources effectively to cover Trust wide and this is kept under ongoing review.
“For the majority of time there is a doctor based in the Downe Hospital who provided medical cover across the other centres.
“There was no impact on either of the other centres as there was sufficient capacity to manage the demand overnight.“
It appears for people suffering from significant medical issues that are NOT emergencies, they can contact the OOH GP when the Minor Injuries Unit is closed. This service at times is being serviced from outside the Downe Hospital, but they may be left with a choice – a long drive up to the Ulster Hospital if they require non-emergency medical attention after hours.
The 24/7 Downe ED is still the elephant in the room.