SOUTH Belfast Alliance MLA Paula Bradshaw has raised concerns over the Belfast Trust’s decision to extend temporary arrangements affecting the out of hours GP service at Knockbreda Health Centre.
Due to significant pressures, the facility is currently only operational between 6pm and midnight during weekdays and from 8am to 1pm on weekends and bank holidays.
The arrangement was due to end after the summer but has been extended until the end of September.
Patients wanting to avail of the out of hours service when the Knockbreda Health Centre is unavailable are redirected to the Crumlin Road site in North Belfast.
“This decision from Belfast Trust is concerning and I hope that the arrangement will come to an end as now planned in September," said the Alliance Party health spokesperson.
"It must not be the case that we see indefinite extensions amounting to a reduction of service by stealth.
“I attended a briefing from the Trust back in July and was assured that this was a temporary staffing issue resulting from the requirement to facilitate much-needed annual leave.
"It remains essential that any permanent changes to out of hours must not be implemented without proper consultation and engagement with the South Belfast community.
“This reduction of service is far from ideal, especially considering there will be those who will face significant barriers to attending an appointment on the Crumlin Road. Furthermore, the pandemic has meant increased pressures on our GPs with many people having difficulty getting an appointment. As a result, there is likely a significant number who will shortly need to see a healthcare professional.
“This is a vital service that helps reduce the pressure on our A&E Departments. To transform our Health Service, we need to enhance our Primary Care provision and thus any reduction would be short-sighted.
"I expect to see the Knockbreda Health Centre return to its full capabilities ahead of the coming winter pressures.”
A Belfast Trust spokesperson said: "Our GP out of hours service, alongside those of other trusts, continues to experience significant pressure and in recent weeks has experienced gaps in the GP rota which we have been unable to fill.
"It remains our first priority to provide a safe, seamless and accessible service for every member of the public who requires it.
"In recent weeks, we have established discussions with GP colleagues to identify solutions to the service. These discussions have been productive and we have agreed the Crumlin Road and Knockbreda services will be merged during times of limited cover to ensure continuity of service for patients.
"Patients requiring the GP out of hours service should continue to access it by calling 028 9074 4447 (North and West Belfast) or 028 9079 6220 (South and East Belfast)."