‘National crisis’ in GP services, says Whitehead surgery

Meadowbridge Surgery (image Google).  INCT 42-734-CON
Meadowbridge Surgery (image Google). INCT 42-734-CON

Meadowbridge Surgery in Whitehead has sought to allay concerns over changes to some of its services in light of the “unprecedented pressures” facing healthcare.

A number of posts on Facebook this week highlighted that travel vaccinations would no longer be provided at the practice, while patients are now required to self-refer for antenatal hospital appointments.

Also highlighted were upcoming changes to the prescription phone line, which will cease to operate from January next year.

From that date, patients can order prescriptions online or at the surgery with photographic ID.

The Carrick Times understands that the information on the changes was taken by a local resident from a leaflet available at the Slaughterford Road clinic.

Commenting on the changes, a number of Facebook users expressed concern over the potential difficulty in ordering repeat prescriptions for the elderly, housebound or those lacking computer skills.

Others queried the availability of travel vaccinations following the cessation of the Travel Clinic at the surgery, with one poster claiming that this was not done in a “timely” manner.

Attention was also drawn to the self referral system for antenatal services, with one resident adding: “Pregnant woman don’t need that extra worry.”

Several posters also shared their positive experiences of the surgery itself, with one writing: “Nothing but praise for our over-stretched and underfunded NHS. Thanks to all staff in Meadowbridge Surgery.”

Responding to the queries, Partners at Meadowbridge pointed to the severe financial constraints under which General Practice is currently having to operate.

“There is currently a national crisis in General Practice with rising demand, complexity of medical conditions and significant problems recruiting staff which has resulted in unprecedented pressures,” a statement from the practice read.

“In order to provide a service which is safe and reliable, Meadowbridge Surgery routinely reviews all services, appointment and triage systems to enable best use of limited resources while ensuring continuity of care.

“For example, Travel Clinics are not a part of NHS work and therefore our obligation as an NHS practice is to provide General Medical Services, rather than private.

“The decision has therefore been taken to no longer provide Travel Clinics and was only implemented at the end of the summer to have minimal impact on patients. This service is available locally at Carrickfergus Health Centre Pharmacy.”

The decision to end the prescription phone line is in line with many other surgeries across the UK and has already been “extensively advertised”, said the practice.

“National guidance on improving medication safety has recommended that repeat prescribing can be managed in a number of ways, for example, using repeat dispensing, electronic prescribing and managed repeat prescription services offered by community pharmacies.

“It is essential that practices have a repeat prescribing system to ensure repeat prescription requests are dealt with efficiently and safely. After a review of our medication ordering practices, telephone ordering of prescriptions was identified as being susceptible to error and inaccuracy in prescribing.”

Meanwhile, the new arrangements for antenatal appointments were initiated by the midwifery team operating within the surgery, rather than the practice itself.

“The Midwife Team initiated a new procedure of patient self-referral to hospitals with the patient now offered a first Practice Midwife appointment at 16 weeks,” the statement added.

“Meadowbridge Surgery was advised of this change along with all other local Practices and had no part in the decision-making process.

“To facilitate our patients, self-referral and new midwife appointment information was uploaded to the Practice website along with direct hospital referral links for ease of access.

“Patients can still see a Midwife or GP earlier than 16 weeks if there is any clinical need.”

Earlier this year, East Antrim politicians Roy Beggs and Stewart Dickson accused the successive DUP and Sinn Fein Health Ministers at Stormont of “failing to invest in primary health care in East Antrim”.

It followed the closure of the only GP surgery in Glenarm in Spring 2017.