Northern Ireland

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Goodwill and resilience of GPs only thing maintaining general practice says NI GP leader

Northern Ireland’s GP leader says the professional values, goodwill and resilience of GPs is the only thing that’s maintaining general practice there amid the ongoing "political vacuum" in the country.

Chair of British Medical Association Northern Ireland's general practitioners committee (NIGPC), Dr Tom Black, made his comments to GPs in Belfast at the Autumn Conference of Local Medical Committees (NI) over the weekend.

"We had a plan this time last year - the GP- led care review plan - and it was signed off by the (Health) minister at the time Michelle O’Neill on 23 December 2017. It hasn’t been implemented because there is no budget, no Health minister and no Assembly," said Dr Black.

"We have fewer GPs per-head of the population than we had in the 1950s and we now have more than 2,000 patients per WTE (while Time Equivalent) GP in Northern Ireland. We have the lowest funding of all four (UK) countries. If we were given a 50% uplift to GP funding over the next three years we would still lag behind England by 10%."

Dr Black spoke of how time with patients was now being affected by the growth in admin.

"Workload in terms of consultations has actually decreased by 500,000 over the last two years because of the workforce crisis. Other work such as prescriptions, blood tests and paperwork continues to increase," he continued.

"Young doctors are reluctant to take up a career in general practice as they feel that the job is no longer doable."

He praised GPs for trying to address the crisis by bringing "innovations into traditional general practice" such as the development of federations, in-practice pharmacists, doctor first triage and workload optimisation to name nut a few.

"The system needs transformation and GPs have prepared their service better than any other part of the NHS in Northern Ireland to be ready for change," said Dr Black.

"In the interim, while we wait for decisions already taken to be implemented, GP practices need to protect their core services for their most vulnerable patients. We can expect no help in the short term and we need to recognise that this crisis and its management is in our own hands. This is our problem and we need to own it." 

Speaking at the conference, Chair of the Annual Conference of Local Medical Committees (NI), Dr Frances O’Hagan, said: "The crisis in our health service is now beyond politics.  We need our politicians to act now to save general practice before we have a situation that sees us have more MLAs than we do GPs."


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