Northern Ireland

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Patients asked to support under-pressure GPs over busy winter period as patient lists soar

Northern Ireland’s under-pressure GPs have taken the unusual step of asking patients to self-treat minor illnesses common over the winter period as the staffing crisis in general practice has left remaining GPs each with average patient lists of over 2,000.

British Medical Association’s Northern Ireland General Practitioners Committee (NIGPC) has written a letter to the public warning them that due to the "unprecedented pressure in terms of increased workload and a severe shortage of doctors" and “abject failure of local politicians to address these issues has exacerbated an already critical situation”, they are encouraging patients to “deal with minor illnesses such as sore throats, coughs and colds with treatment at home.”

Anyone eligible is also being asked to get the flu vaccine ahead of what is expected to be a severe influenza epidemic over the winter period.

The letter was sent to all newspapers across Northern Ireland and is supported by a poster campaign throughout the country’s GP surgeries urging patients to do what they can to treat minor winter ailments.

"Over the winter months GPs and their staff will do their best to maintain vital services for the most vulnerable patients, however it is only fair to warn you that some practices may have to cut their opening hours, stop routine services, deal with cases over the phone or send patients directly to hospital in order to manage workload," writes NIGPC Chair, Dr Tom Black.

"To help manage workload we would encourage patients, where possible, to deal with minor illnesses such as sore throats, coughs and colds with treatment at home. Your local pharmacy should be your first point of call for these minor issues.

"This crisis in GP services has been caused by a lack of funding, a huge increase in workload and a failure to attract young doctors into general practices.  The average GP is now responsible for the care of 2,000 patients. We cannot sustain the current level of work and therefore ask for patients’ cooperation in taking these simple steps to help manage that workload."

Dr Black added that the country’s GPs had been "left with no choice but to be honest with their patients on what lies ahead".

"The problems in general practice have not gone away, and without a functioning devolved government they are getting worse," continued Dr Black.

"No funding, no new GPs coming through and the largest average patient list size we’ve ever had; we therefore owe it to our patients to be honest about what potentially lies ahead this winter and ask for their support. GPs and staff will continue to do their best to maintain vital services for those in most need."

Ends

 

Full text of open letter to the public of Northern Ireland

It is well known that GP services across Northern Ireland are facing unprecedented pressure in terms of increased workload and a severe shortage of doctors. The abject failure of local politicians to address these issues has exacerbated an already critical situation.


Over the winter months GPs and their staff will do their best to maintain vital services for the most vulnerable patients, however it is only fair to warn you that some practices may have to cut their opening hours, stop routine services, deal with cases over the phone or send patients directly to hospital in order to manage workload. 

To help manage workload we would encourage patients, where possible, to deal with minor illnesses such as sore throats, coughs and colds with treatment at home. Your local pharmacy should be your first point of call for these minor issues. 

We would also encourage everyone who is eligible to get their flu vaccine as we expect the influenza epidemic to be severe this winter. 

This crisis in GP services has been caused by a lack of funding, a huge increase in workload and a failure to attract young doctors into general practices.  The average GP is now responsible for the care of 2,000 patients. 


Dr Tom Black
Chair, BMA Northern Ireland’s General Practitioners Committee.

 

 

Notes for Editors

The BMA is the voice of doctors and medical students in the UK. It is an apolitical professional organisation and independent trade union, representing doctors and medical students from all branches of medicine across the UK and supporting them to deliver the highest standards of care.

For more information, contact Gráinne Brinkley, BMA Northern Ireland Communications officer, on email [email protected], or mobile 07408805067.  

 

 

For further information please contact:

BMA Northern Ireland, 16 Cromac Place, Cromac Wood, Ormeau Road, Belfast BT7 2JB
Telephone:
028 9026 9666   (switchboard)
028 9026 9672   (direct line)
074 0880 9519   (mobile / out of hours)
Email: [email protected] 
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