For several months hundreds of people in the Portadown area have been without a permanent GP practice after vacancies arose and were filled only by locums.
This came after the lead GP Dr Martin McConaghy stepped down from the role at the Bannview Medical Practice, based at the Portadown Health Centre, earlier this year.
The issue was raised by SDLP MLA Dolores Kelly at a meeting with the Southern Trust Chief Executive, Shane Devlin, this week.
And speaking to Armagh I, Ms Kelly said that the matter had “rumbled on far, far too long”, as she revealed she had been receiving messages from several patients of the practice who were “very dissatisfied”.
She said: “GP services are an autonomous unit, generally speaking, but in this case it is a direct employee of the Trust. So, the Trust manages that particular practice.
“I have been told that they will have locums and agency in for this week and that they are at an advanced stage of negotiations with a GP to take up the position.”
Ms Kelly also stated that many constituents had been in touch with herself regarding difficulties experienced in getting in contact with their GP, or even the receptionist.
She said: “We have asked about online or other means of communication, because I think whenever this sorry tale is all over and we look back to see the non-Covid deaths, through people who have not been able to access services, it will be deeply worrying.”
According the SDLP MLA, the warning signs have been apparent for some time.
She said: “In the British Medical Association mandate for the end of 2016, they had warned about insufficient numbers of GPs coming through and a lot coming to retirement age.
“The warning signs have been there for a while. What was also happening was that people were qualifying then going off to Australia, where it was much more lucrative and not as much hassle.”
She claimed that “workforce planning”, including discussions in the Executive around whether to waive tuition fees for those who chose to remain in this country to practice, have never taken place.
Ms Kelly added: “Now we are left with a developing crisis across a number of GP services.
“We even have had couples attached to a certain practice, that have had a baby, but have been unable to get their child registered.
“The people of Portadown feel particularly let down that they haven’t had any stability now for several months.”
Having spoken to Mr Devlin on the matter, Mrs Kelly said: “We all know the important relationship between a GP and their patients often forged through many years of service. People rely on their GP as the doctor who knows them best and as someone who will advocate for them when they need other treatments within the NHS.
“I was reassured to learn that negotiations are ongoing with an interested party and hope that a permanent solution will soon be found.
“In the meantime measures have been put in place to ensure the practice is covered. I will be watching the situation closely and also raising the continuing shortage with the Health Minster Robin Swann.”