Commenting on today’s quarterly statistics for general medical services which show that the number of practices is declining while the number of patients is rising, Dr Alan Stout, Chair of BMA Northern Ireland’s general practitioners committee, said: “These figures clearly show the immense amount of work that has gone into protecting GP services for the population. Despite 12 contract hand-backs a service for patients has been maintained in all but one of these practices. This is true firefighting and crisis management, and we now have to make sure that we have a long term stabilisation plan to sustain the service. We are also seeing a steady increase in the number of patients registered in each practice, but funding is not matching this increase.
“The past six months in general practice have been some of the most stressful the profession has gone through. We simply do not have enough staff or resources to deal with the workload expected of us and this has resulted in unprecedented levels of contract hand-backs. This could have been avoided had action been taken when we had asked for it a decade ago.
“The small increase in the number of GPs working in Northern Ireland over this period does not paint an accurate picture of the current workforce crisis”, explained Dr Stout.
“This is simply a headcount number that tells a different story when you look behind the figures. Pressure in general practice is such that becoming a GP partner with its associated responsibilities is no longer an attractive career option. It is therefore no surprise that a significant number of newly-qualified GPs are either opting to work as locums for increased flexibility and autonomy, or work less than full-time for portfolio careers with other specialties or because of family commitments. A part-time GP in Northern Ireland actually works 40 hours a week, which you simply would not class as part-time in any other profession. The narrative that GPs are closed and not seeing patients is simply not true and is demoralising.”
Dr Stout reiterated calls for urgent intervention into general practice to stop the level of contract hand-backs, “There are many short term interventions the Department of Health could do now to halt this crisis even in the absence of a health minister and functioning Assembly: freeze QOF, address spiralling indemnity costs and simplify what is being asked of practices to ensure maximum access.
“Long-term, we need the assembly back and running to ring-fence a multi-year health budget, implement the full and fair roll-out of MDTs in all areas of Northern Ireland and to address unfair pension taxation rules.”
Notes to editors
The BMA is a professional association and trade union representing and negotiating on behalf of all doctors in the UK. A leading voice advocating for outstanding health care and a healthy population. An association providing members with excellent individual services and support throughout their lives.