Northern Ireland

GPs 'willing to sign up to leaving letters' amid fears of service collapse

Tom Black
Image caption The BMA's Tom Black said Michelle O'Neill had said the right things now the system needed to implement her plan

Some general practitioners in Northern Ireland have said they are willing to begin the process of leaving the health service.

More than 200 GPs were at a a meeting called by the British Medical Association on Tuesday night.

Some 97% of doctors at the meeting said they would sign an undated resignation letter, the BMA has said.

The move came on the day Health Minister Michelle O'Neill announced significant investment in GP surgeries.

She announced a 10-year plan which includes providing more GPs and nurses.

Tom Black of the British Medical Association (BMA) gave the move a cautious welcome.

"We have the minister saying the right things, we now need the system to implement the minister's plan," he said.

"I have confidence in this minister, this minister gets it.

"She knows what is wrong, she knows what needs to be done.

"I also think that the assembly is focused on this problem, but we have been here before and we haven't followed through with the implementation, the action and the investment - that is what we need to do now."

He added: "While there were some positive announcements by the minister as part of her health and wellbeing plans, until we have greater clarity about the funding for these initiatives we need to move forward with our own plans," he said.

The decision to ask GPs to consider undated resignations follows a motion taken at a meeting of the Local Medical Committee (LMC) in March.

Then, doctors voted in favour of seeking support for such a mass action if the Department of Health failed to negotiate a rescue package for primary care within six months.

Ms O'Neill's plan sets out a range of priorities, including a focus on keeping people healthy in the first place, and a new model of care involving a team of professionals based around GP surgeries.

Image caption Michelle O'Neill unveiled her plan on Tuesday

Its 18 time-specific action points are based on recommendations from a government-appointed panel.

The proposals set out in the report, Delivering Together, include:

  • A short-term plan to tackle waiting lists to be drawn up by January
  • By spring, every GP practice will have a named district nurse, health visitor and social worker
  • By December 2016, 54 pharmacists should be in place in GP practices. This roll-out will be completed by March 2021
  • Number of GP training places will increase to 111 - there will be 12 additional places next year and 14 the following
  • More advanced nurse practitioners
  • Further support for looked-after children will be in place by late 2017

Opposition politicians have questioned the lack of details in the plan, which is not costed.

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