The long-term future of single-handed rural practices is ‘unsustainable’, a public meeting to protest against the closure of a County Fermanagh GP surgery has been told.
The Roslea surgery closed last week, leaving the village without a doctor for the first time in 100 years.
Several hundred people who attended the meeting were told that no doctors applied to take over the contract.
Patients will now have to travel to the health centre in Lisnaskea, over 30 miles away.
Representatives from the Health and Social Care Board said they had found it increasingly difficult to replace retiring GPs in rural practices, as doctors no longer want to work on their own.
They said this contrasted to the situation 20 years ago when there were about 40 applicants for a GP post in the nearby village of Newtownbutler.
Maple Health Care has taken over the patients of three single-handed practices in Roslea, Newtownbutler and Lisnaskea.
Dr Sloan Harper, director of integrated care at the Health and Social Care Board, said the temporary model of a GP from Lisnaskea providing services in Roslea for part of the week was not sustainable in the long term.
‘The doctors working here are taking on a major change process, going from a practice of 8,500 to 14,500 patients, taking over three practices.
There is no rescue in sight for more than 20 GP practices which the GPC is expecting to close in Northern Ireland this year, GP leaders have said.
The warning comes as three practices have closed down in hard-hit county Fermanagh, with a neighbouring practice taking on 3,000 extra patients.
The dire predictions, which would see the loss of around 6% of a current 343 practices in Northern Ireland, come as political uncertainty means it is ‘becoming imposssible’ to recruit GPs to take on practice responsibility.
He said that in Fermanagh alone, 18 practices were likely to become just five by the end of the year, with overall closures now predicted to top 20.
It comes as the GPC warned last month that closures in Belfast showed the problems facing general practice were worse than even they anticipated.
Meanwhile, details of an indicative budget that will be imposed if Northern Ireland politicians fail to reach a power-sharing agreement show health getting a cut in real terms.
Dr Black said that against the backdrop of a 5% rise in inflation the 3% increase in funding announced for health was essentially a cut.
There are no details as yet as to how health funding would be split between primary and secondary care.
The closure of three practices Co. Fermanagh, has seen 3,000 patients displaced, with another local practice – the Maple Group Practice – being assigned to take on the patients.
One of the three practices belonged to Dr Roy Leary, who retired in February but was forced to stay on as a locum because there was no one else to care for his patients.