Mullaghbawn locals 'frightened and appalled' over probable South Armagh GP closure

Residents in a South Armagh village have told UTV they feel "doomed" as their GP practice is set to close in June, unless a new contractor takes over.

5,300 patients are registered at the Maphoner surgery in Mullaghbawn.

The Department of Health said it was in discussions with contractors on taking on the practice, but locals say the lack of transport options to other surgeries mean they feel cut off from the world in the absence of good news about their practice.

Patient Evelyn Campbell said the news "frightens and appalls" her.

"I live just there," she said, gesturing to her home, just yards away from the GP practice.

"I've been very fortunate. I've had five major surgeries. I got lung cancer. I've had heart valves. I've lost my bowel, major kidney disease.

Evelyn Campbell.

"My GPs were beside me, and therefore, they saved my life. Now we are left in a position where we don't have any GPs.

"We can't get an appointment, I don't know what's going to happen. I'm disgusted by the whole system. I don't think the government, the political parties are doing anything to help the situation in this country."

Local woman Tracy McDonnell said it would be "horrible" to see her GP practice close.

Tracey McDonnell.

"They have been a great practice through the years and helping us and looking after the community... It would be a big it would be horrible, actually, to see it close.

"I don't know what situation we'd be left and there will be an awful lot of people who would have to travel quite a long way.

"Elderly and disabled people who have difficulty travelling. I've big concerns about us, like we don't actually know where we'd be.

"We don't know. We haven't been informed of anything. It'll just be very sad to see it closed."

Karen McEntee is a pharmacist in the village, and worries about the knock on effect closure would have on services already under pressure.

Karen McEntee.

"GP surgeries here, like every other sort of small community, are struggling and the GP's are severely under pressure after COVID.

"We're under pressure as well and to close another practice would only make the pressures even more.

"Patients can't get to see a doctor and they come to us with their first port of call."

Ms McEntee says she fears for the vulnerable and those without their own car.

"If the practice closes down there, it's about eight and a half miles to the nearest practice either in Crossmaglen or Newtown.

"The bus service in this area isn't very reliable either, so it'd be very difficult for your granny or a sick relative to get the bus to the GP practice for an appointment."

Sandra Murtagh does not drive.

Sandra Murtagh.

"If I can't get to see a doctor and get medication, I'm doomed," she said.

"Otherwise I would have to get into Daisy Hill somehow and get into A&E because I can't see a doctor, I can't have bloods, you know, the usual stuff that I have to have done.

"I'd have to try get a bus to Cross, which is very limited."

More locals spoke to UTV, but did not want to go on camera.

The consensus was very much that this is distressing news about the loss of a much loved local service that has been a lifeline until now, but that those in the area are happy to see their doctor moving on to enjoy much deserved retirement.

Meanwhile, six Armagh GP surgeries have written to the Department of Health to express their concerns, saying they are already close to breaking point.

Eleven doctors from neighbouring practices in County Armagh have co-signed a letter and say “the current proposals will destabilise South Armagh General Practice as a whole” and could lead to more surgeries handing back their GP contracts.

In a statement, the Department of Health said: "[We] are working extensively to ensure the continuation of GP services for the local community in Mullaghbawn.

"We are still in discussions with potential contractors to take over the current contract for Maphoner Surgery from 1 July 2023.

"Patients of the surgery should continue to contact their practice as normal for their healthcare needs."

The statement continued: "We would like to reassure patients that in similar situations across Northern Ireland, our staff have worked hard to find solutions and GP services continue to be provided.

"The department acknowledges the ongoing and significant pressures on GP practices, stemming from the fact that demand for their services is outstripping capacity to provide it.

"Notwithstanding budgetary pressures, the department is committed to building the GP workforce. We have made significant progress in relation to the number of GPs we train each year.

"The number of GP training places in Northern Ireland has been increased by 70% from 2015 levels in recent years. The review of places is ongoing and the department will consider recommendations from the review of training places in the future.

"The department has also recently streamlined the processes for GPs who qualified in a number of countries to take up roles in Northern Ireland."

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