THE spectre of patients having to travel 30-40 miles across Fermanagh to see their GPs, all as a result of government moves to privatise others, was held up as an imminent threat at a ‘Save Our Surgeries’ meeting in Lisnaskea last week.
Among those who attended the meeting were MLA Rosemary Barton of the UUP, the SDLP’s Richie McPhillips and MP Tom Elliott. Lisnaskea Sinn Fein MLA Sean Lynch did not attend the meeting saying that he had been ill.
The panel of speakers included former Fermanagh Sinn Fein councillor, Donal O’Cofaigh, an expert in economics.
He referred to an article by Dr Tom Black, the chairman of the Northern Ireland GPs in which he suggested that, in Fermanagh, 18 rural GP practices here would be consolidated into five.
Mr Coffey warned: “We are already down, from 18 to 16 and, others will close in the next few months.”
He referred to the recent closure of Maguiresbridge, with practices in Roslea, Ederney, Brookebrough, Newtownbutler, Belleek ‘and even Lisnaskea’ to follow.
“Why? It’s all because of disinvestment decisions. There is a great shortage of locums. They are that dependant on locums and, if you start cutting locums it will have a greater effect on Fermanagh where the greatest needs are.”
The meeting was organised by the Labour Party.
Mr O Cofaigh added: “This needs to be a lot more than one party, and I want to see other groups in the county coming behind us. I believe in ‘people power’ campaigns, and I do know many will listen to us if we get ourselves organised and more people understand what is happening.”
He went on: “This situation can be reversed, and we should not accept there is no GP in Maguiresbridge where there has been a GP there for decades.”
Other panel members included Padraig Murphy from Unite the Union (the chairman), Phil Kelly, from the Labour Party NI, and Diane Little who played a prominent role in getting the new hospital (SWAH) to Enniskillen.
Mr Murphy said the GP practice closure in Maguiresbridge was ‘a major event’, yet there was a gloomy silence.
“This is serious. I am a pensioner who has worked all my life and paid my taxes like the majority of you do. We are taxed to the nose, right, left and centre and we should not be left the way we are.
“I feel angry at spin doctors calling us pensioners a burden on the NHS, bed blockers, and so on. This is to get pensioners to be kept in their own houses where they will get sub-standard treatment, where they will ‘private sector’ what remains of the NHS, leading to the death of the NHS.
“It (the NHS) is being re-shaped so that it will be ripe picking for insurance-based care and privatisation.”
The organisers, the Labour Party NI, have appealed for a large turn-out at the next meeting in the Killyhevlin Hotel on Tuesday, 17th January, at 7pm.
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