GP resignations ‘inevitable’ without funding

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Hundreds of doctors could resign if the collapse of Stormont means an investment plan is not implemented, the British Medical Association (BMA) warned.

Pressure on the GP workforce has already resulted in the closure of many rural surgeries in Northern Ireland.

A deal was agreed with the health authorities before Christmas but is threatened by the political uncertainty.

Dr Tom Black, chairman of the Northern Ireland General Practitioners Committee, said: “GPs across Northern Ireland have called for immediate investment to prevent the collapse of general practice here, and have taken the step of considering resigning from the health service to ensure this does not happen.

“If a rescue plan isn’t funded it means the proposed GP resignations are now inevitable.”

The step could mean the shuttering of more surgeries, or doctors who have left the NHS charging patients for appointments.

An ageing population, with more chronic conditions and complex health needs, is a challenge for the health system.

Dr Black said recent weeks have clearly shown that general practice is on the edge of a full-blown crisis.

A doctor’s practice in Portadown, Co Armagh, was on the verge of closure after the last GP resigned but a new contractor was found.

Before the current crisis at Stormont, health minister Michelle O’Neill said the number of GP training places was planned to increase to 111 by 2018/19, a year ahead of a working group’s recommendation.

Over 100 practice-based pharmacists will also soon be in place in general practice.

Dr Black said: “Continued uncertainty over the budget for Northern Ireland means that plans we had worked hard to agree with the Department of Health to address the issues, and put general practice back on an even keel cannot now be implemented.

“The minister made it clear in her statement in December there was now a clear direction of travel that, if followed, would result in stability for primary care services.

“A contingency plan is now urgently needed to address what should be done in the event of an election and further delays to a budget being agreed.”

The GP review, which was accepted by the minister in December, called for measures to increase the number of GPs working in Northern Ireland, increasing the focus on general practice in medical training, increasing access to other healthcare staff, and investment in technology and premises.