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Sinn Féin voice concerns at Belfast plans to cover out of hour services

30 July, 2004

A Sinn Fein delegation including South Belfast MLA Alex Maskey, North Belfast MLA Kathy Stanton and Lisburn councillor Paul Butler have meet with the Eastern Health Board to discuss concerns about the arrangements to provide out-of-hours GP services.

Speaking after meeting EHSSB representatives in Belfast City Hall Mr Maskey said:

"Sinn Fein have particular concerns about the arrangements to provide out-of-hours cover in West Belfast and in the area between Inner East and Inner South Belfast. It is also clear that there are important financial limitations on the level of out-of-hours cover that can be provided. It is vital that the direct rule Health Minster Angela Smith ensure that sufficient resources are committed so that communities such throughout Belfast are not left exposed and vulnerable.

"These are vital services that are particularly used by families and the elderly. Under these plans EHSSB estimate that 95% of patients would be able to access an out-of-hours centre by car in less than 15 minutes and 99% in less than ∏ hour. Given the higher levels of need associated with working class areas coupled with the low levels of car ownership it is wrong to judge access times on car travel times. The rule of thumb should be that they are no more than one bus journey away. This cannot be argued about any of these centres.

"Sinn Féin greatest concern is that none of the out-of-hours centres are in areas that could be considered to be neutral, but in areas that the nationalist community will feel unsafe to travel to.

"It is not about being prescriptive about where services are located but the bottom line is these proposals will have an adverse impact on working class communities and the nationalist community in particular." ENDS

Note to Editors

From the 1st January 2005 the EHSSB will have responsibility for providing out-of-hours services in the greater Belfast area. They will be responsible for out-of-hours GP services that run from 630pm- 8am Monday - Friday and all weekend, including Bank Holidays. These account for 40,000 attendances at out-of-hours centres and 20,000 home visits per annum by GPs.

The current EHSSB proposals are for new out-of-hours centres at:

· Close to the Mater Hospital initially and then probably at the new Primary Care Centre at Lincoln Ave

· Forster Green Site, Saintfield Rd

· Lagan Valley Hospital

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