The Out of Hours Doctor’s Service is ‘broken’ said one doctor based at the Craigavon clinic.
Dr Frances O’Hagan spoke out after she was the only doctor on call for the entire Southern Health Trust area during a particular busy period.
Last weekend during the Bank Holiday period, it transpired that there was only one doctor rather than three to cover an area from Banbridge to Dungannon, Kilkeel to Keady and from Crossmaglen to Moira.
It transpired that there were too few doctors available to cover shifts.
According to the BBC, it emerged that for six consecutive nights at the end of August only one doctor was available to cover the overnight shift for the entire health trust.
Dr O’Hagan said: “Unfortunately I think our service in the southern area is already broken. We are not providing the service we want to provide to patients due to lack of cover of doctors.
In order to provide safe overnight cover, there should be a total of three doctors, one based in Craigavon, one in Dungannon and the other in Newry but instead more often there is only one GP to cover house calls.
“I started my shift at midnight and I had a call from a patient who was unfortunately very unwell who had a mental health problem and was actively suicidal. Within an hour I had three similar calls. I had to attend casualty in Craigavon to assess them to see whether they needed admitted under the Mental Health Order. Police were tied up with it, social services were tied up with it. Each of the cases took me in excess of an hour which was three hours into my shift.
“All the while, while I was doing this important work, and these people were very ill and needed my attention, I had a build up in the background of children with temperatures, my palliative care patients, my nursing home patients.
The Trust admits the service is under pressure. Last year they received more than 94,000 calls from the public but only 20% of these contacts were urgent.
“A number of the calls we get would not be for urgent care conditions. It would be for minor things such as head lice, coldsores, blisters, hangovers and for that reason we would ask people to think carefully about the alternative services available,” a spokesperson said.
“It is no longer compulsory for doctors to work out of hours.”