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Northern Ireland GPC voted in its January meeting to proceed with collecting undated practice resignations from providing NHS services. This followed on from a series of roadshows, when almost every GP who attended signed a statement supporting this process.
It was felt that this was the only option left to try and ensure that a primary care service remained in Northern Ireland. There is frustration and anger that we have been forced down this route, but years of underfunding and undertraining have now reached a critical point, and practices have already been closing or collapsing.
What this means is that practices can send an undated letter, resigning from their contract with the Health and Social Care Board (HSCB) to provide NHS services. These resignations will be held by the BMA until a set number of them are received (to protect practices if they are concerned about doing this alone), then will be sent to the HSCB, giving suitable notice.
Patients, GPs and practices have questions, and they will be answered as quickly as possible. It's important to remember that this will not happen overnight, and it will take time to ensure it is done as well as it can be. Further information will be coming from Northern Ireland GPC within the next week or two.
As things progress, we will all be looking to the Department of Health Social Services and Public Safety, Northern Ireland to see how serious they are about saving primary care in Northern Ireland – their response needs to be prompt, sincere, effective, and (perhaps most importantly) actually enacted.
I’ll write further updates as things progress.
Conan Castles is a sessional GP representative for the Northern Ireland sessional GP subcommittee