BMA NI statement on NI Audit Office Report on Access to GPs

by BMA Northern Ireland

Media release from BMA Northern Ireland.

Location: Northern Ireland
Published: Wednesday 20 March 2024
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Commenting on NI Audit Office Report on ‘Access to General Practice in Northern Ireland’, Dr Alan Stout, chair of BMA’s Northern Ireland general practitioners committee, said: "This report both reiterates and validates what we have been warning about for some time – escalating workload, workforce and financial pressures, coupled with a failure to tackle these issues with sustainable long-term and properly funded solutions, has brought general practice to the state it is in today.

"One of the most damning findings of this report is that the share of overall health and social care spend on general practice was just 5.4% in 2022-23, with a real terms cut in funding of around 7% compared to 2021-22. This is an astonishingly low amount at a time when practices are facing spiralling costs, rocketing inflation, inadequate staffing, and a huge increase in patient demand. It is the absolute key factor in so many of the other problems listed in this report.

"It also states that almost one in three practices has sought crisis support services in the last four years. These support services may provide a short-term solution, but they are costly and do not guarantee stabilising practices in the long term, something which the report acknowledges and which needs to be addressed with urgency. It is also worth noting that a further five contract hand backs have happened in 2023-24 that are not included in the NI Audit Office’s analysis.

"We are pleased to see the report flags the need for a proper workforce planning strategy to support recruitment and retention of GPs, particularly in the backdrop of increasing patient numbers and older patients with more complex health needs. However, the report does not look at how spiralling GP indemnity costs is a significant barrier to recruitment and retention, exacerbating what is already a very bleak picture.

"This is the latest in a long line of reports published over the past decade that have clearly outlined what needs to happen to save general practice. We can only hope its recommendations do not also fall on deaf ears and that properly funded, long-term, sustainable interventions to save primary care are actioned before it is too late."

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