Rural GP’s Face Crisis in Northern Ireland

gp crisis 1Many local rural GP’s across Northern Ireland now face serious worries about the future sustainability of their practices and finding someone to take over the care of their patients once they or a partner  retires.

Northern Ireland has the oldest GP population in the UK and has a significant gap in the GP workforce. RCGPNI have been lobbying the government to address this issue right across the province; however, there is an urgent need to target the recruitment crisis is rural areas in particular.

The sad news finding a successor for their practice they have often given their lives to is not easy. Northern Ireland just does not have enough family doctors who are willing to work in our smaller, more isolated surgeries. We are calling for the government, the Health Minister and the main organisations representing general practice to work together develop a package of solutions as a matter of urgency.

Dr Adrienne Keown from Annalong : Dr Adrienne Keown from Annalong.
Dr Adrienne Keown from Annalong : Dr Adrienne Keown from Annalong.

Dr Adrienne Keown from Annalong is in such a position and has commented on what it means to her to be a rural GP. She is a full–time GP Principal and GP trainer, based in Annalong, Co Down and became a partner in her practice in April 2000. Dr Keown is married with two children age 13 and 11, and is also an Undergraduate Medical Student Champion.

“Like many GP’s, I am  faced with a significant problem as a GP partner approaches the age of retirement. I am a rural family doctor.I work in County Co Down in the Annalong area, and I am currently faced with the difficulty of a senior colleague retiring in the next 5 years. GP’s are an important part of our local community and our patients love to receive a visit from us,” said Dr McKeown,

She added: “In the past, I have even had the privilege of accompanying patients to the local funeral parlour while they sadly say their goodbyes to loved ones. I do what I can to support my patients when they need it most. People appreciate having someone to turn to in their times of need and I find it very touching when I am referred to as not just their doctor, but their friend.

manifesto action“Being a rural GP in a close-knit community, there are not necessarily fixed working hours. Different patients have different needs at different times and it was important to me to be able to support my patients when they need me. The reality is that sometimes, and all too often, some of our patients have no-one else to turn to in their time of need or distress. The closure of rural practices would be a travesty in many cases.

“Patients in rural areas are already disadvantaged by having to travel so far to local hospitals and can sometimes experience very long waits for ambulances when they need them, but this is about more than just the vital provision of health care for my local population. A local rural surgery is often the hub of the village and acts as a meeting point for many people. The nature of smaller practices enable staff to get to know everyone very well and there is often a real sense of friendship and support between staff and patients.

“I commend the work that the Royal College of GP’s Northern Ireland is currently involved in and think that Dr O’Kelly and Dr Fannin are doing a great job as leaders and in influencing the key decision makers here. I support the actions being taken are to highlight the real issues in rural areas. If action is not taken to address the problems with recruiting new doctors, the situation is only going to get much worse.”

Dr Keown supports the RCGP NI Manifesto which is asking the NI Assembly to:

*  Grow the GP workforce by 400 by 2020

*  Give GP’s sufficient time to focus on patient care

*  Empower innovation in general practice

*  Develop the whole general practice team

*  Improve general practice infrastructure

*  Provide ongoing, sustained investment in general practice

Support your family doctor and general practice in Northern Ireland by asking your local MLA and MLA candidate in the upcoming election to make general practice a priority issue.