General practitioner Northern Ireland

Last updated:

BMA challenges out-of-hours care proposal

A framework for the future of GP out-of-hours care is not consistent with the aims of a wider health service shake-up, doctors leaders have said.

BMA Northern Ireland GPs committee chair Tom Black said Health and Social Care Board plans to regionalise out-of-hours provision, so patients would call a single number out of hours, could run counter to the proposals for system-wide reform envisaged under TYC (Transforming Your Care).

He welcomed an announcement by the Health and Social Care Board that it has extended its public consultation on the issue.

The BMA has already responded to the consultation and lays out a series of concerns about the proposals.

‘Essentially they are looking to centralise the service and that is not something that the BMA wants to happen,’ said Dr Black.

He said the BMA was seriously concerned that the proposal in the Strategic Framework for GP Out of Hours (PDF) ‘appears to pre-date TYC and is not consistent with many of its aims and implications’.

Integration needed

Under TYC, more care is to be delivered in the community, through new integrated care partnerships, with less reliance on the acute sector.

Dr Black added: ‘GP out of hours, and its further local development and extension, is fundamental to delivering many of the aims of TYC, and as a local, responsive primary care service can help to reduce hospital admissions and [emergency department] attendances.

‘It is our view that GP out of hours should in future sit within integrated care partnerships, and be developed according to local need and design, around enhancing primary and community care to patients and ensuring they remain at home where possible.’

Dr Black said BMA Northern Ireland also had concerns about the possible introduction of the NHS 111 number in Northern Ireland. This is supposed to be for urgent but not life-threatening calls.

‘There are NHS 111 pilots in place in England and there is evidence to show this has led to an increase in the number of GP appointments, ambulance call-outs and [emergency department] attendances,’ he explained.

‘There has also been a lack of investment in GP out of hours in the last eight years when there really should have been an increase and this is something we have raised in our response to the consultation.’