Northern Ireland

NI GPs move step closer to leaving health service

Doctor Image copyright Science Photo Library
Image caption Dr Black said the workforce crisis meant practices could not be kept open

GPs in Northern Ireland have voted to take another step closer to leaving the health service.

Members of the British Medical Association (BMA) agreed at a meeting in Belfast on Wednesday that practices could leave at a future date.

In December, hundreds of individual GPs signed undated resignation letters.

Senior doctors have been warning for some time of a "perfect storm" over recruitment, workload and funding.

Wednesday's vote, by the BMA's Northern Ireland's General Practitioners Committee (NIGPC), will not trigger immediate action, but will be banked and could be used at a later date in negotiations with the government.

GPs opting to go private could mean charging a consultation fee of around £45 for patients - similar to the system in the Republic of Ireland.

Image caption Dr Tom Black said the decision was taken "with deep regret"

The BMA predicts about 20 practices will close within a year due to lack of investment.

The NIGPC has called for three measures "to prevent the collapse of general practice across the country":

  • Investment of 10% of the Northern Ireland healthcare budget on a safe, sustainable GP service for patients
  • Training and recruitment of more GPs so practices at risk of closure can stay open and meet the needs of patients
  • Reducing bureaucracy and improve IT systems so more time can be spent providing care to patients

NIGPC chair Dr Tom Black said the decision to proceed with undated resignations was taken "with deep regret".

"General practice is on the brink in Northern Ireland and we feel we have no alternative to proceed with collecting undated resignations from our members," he said.

"Continued inaction to save general practice has forced us into this situation.

"The work of the Northern Ireland government may have stalled, but the need to provide safe and efficient healthcare to patients has not stalled. General practice is being delivered under unsustainable conditions that we can no longer tolerate."

Health Minister Michelle O'Neill said that in the Delivering Together report she had "set out the actions that will support the long-term sustainability of general practice here".

She said there was investment in technology to "help transform" the way general practice works and to improve the service to patients as well as a "substantial increase" to 111 GP training places over the next two years.

"These commitments, which will help to ease GP workload pressures and attract more doctors into general practice, will build on the already significant investment in general practice," Mrs O'Neill added.

In 2016-17 an investment of up to £7m in GP services was agreed following contract negotiations, building on an investment of up to £5m made in the last financial year.

"Recognising the immediate pressures that GPs are under I can also now confirm that I have agreed to provide relief from some of the administrative tasks that face our doctors - by removing reporting requirements for the Quality Outcomes Framework (QOF) until the end of the financial year," said Mrs O'Neill.

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