Priory and Springhill GP surgeries to be taken over by health trust

Two large GP surgeries in County Down are to be taken over by health authorities after talks failed to find new doctors to run them.

The Priory and Springhill GP Practice operates from two sites in Holywood and Bangor, which together provide GP services for almost 15,000 patients.

Problems were raised in August when it was announced they would shut in early 2023 unless new doctors were found.

But the South Eastern Health Trust will now run them on a temporary basis.

The Department of Health confirmed the move to BBC News NI on Monday after the 11th-hour failure of negotiations.

It follows the resignations of GP partners at both practices.

In the recent past the doctors’ union the British Medical Association (BMA) has said medical practices are becoming too expensive to run.

Dr Alan Stout, BMA NI GP committee chair, said the takeover was “yet another example of the perilous state that general practice in Northern Ireland is in”.

“This practice was in trouble many months ago. An enthusiastic new contractor did express an interest in taking on the practice but realised it would be impossible to get enough GPs to work there with them to meet the workload,” he said.

“We need to urgently resolve our workforce crisis and ensure that general practice has a sustainable future.”

Dr Stout said the trust takeover was an emergency measure and “cannot be seen as the future of general practice”.

‘Worrying time’

Alliance’s North Down MP Stephen Farry said his party wrote to the permanent secretary in the Department of Health to voice its concerns.

“We are hopeful this is just a temporary solution and discussions to secure a longer-term replacement contractor will continue as a matter of urgency,” he said.

“We have ongoing concerns around the level of coverage and service that will be offered as a result, and will be seeking further reassurances around this from the trust.”

A Department of Health spokesperson said patients “do not need to take any action” and would be notified by letter of the development in the coming days.

They added that the South Eastern Health Trust will work with the department to secure ongoing locum GP cover for the practice.

Patients who require GP services have been advised that they should continue to contact their practice as normal.

“We understand this is a very worrying time for patients belonging to the Priory and Springhill GP practices,” said Roisin Coulter, chief executive of the South Eastern Health and Social Care Trust.

“The trust will continue to work very closely with our GP and Department of Health colleagues to minimise disruption and ensure continuity of essential GP services for patients.”