GPs warn Stormont politicians: We cannot pause patient illness

GPs said they need more than verbal commitments to save practices

GPs said they need more than verbal commitments to save practices

All political parties in Northern Ireland are being told to “rise to the challenge” and put an end to the “frightening” prospect of GP services being lost in local communities, as may already be the case for over 5,000 people in Portadown.

The Royal College of General Practitioners Northern Ireland (RCGPNI) chair, Dr Grainne Doran, has penned an open letter to the leaders of all our political parties, calling for their support for the reform of health and social care here.

The letter follows a similar warning last week from the chair of the British Medical Association’s Northern Ireland Council, Dr John D Woods, that the problems in our health service have reached a “critical point” amid what he called “spiralling” waiting lists.

In Portadown, 5,200 patients at the Bannview practice may be left without cover after the failure of attempts to save the practice following the withdrawal of a contractor who had earlier agreed to take over the practice.

In her open letter, Dr Doran writes: “Patient waiting lists continue to grow, patient care is at risk and GP morale is plummeting.

“General practice sits at the very heart of this. Family doctors provide vital care for every constituent across the region and families find support and comfort in the bonds they build with their local GP. There is nothing more valuable to people than good health.

“Over the past few weeks, we have seen an alarming series of events unfold in Portadown. It is clear that there is no ‘quick fix’ to the recruitment and workload challenges we are facing but there are actions that we can take now to begin the journey to save general practice.

“The RCGPNI welcomed the focus on primary care and general practice in Health Minister Michelle O’Neill’s 10-year vision Health and Wellbeing 2026: Delivering Together and were pleased to see the minister committing to implement the recommendations from the GP-led Working Group Report in December 2016, which was produced in March 2016 while Simon Hamilton was health minister. These commitments must be funded as a matter of urgency.”

She continues: “Verbal commitments will not save Bannview and the many other practices across the region that are struggling to recruit and retain family doctors to meet the growing needs of our patients.

“With an election looming in March, budget plans for allocating the much-needed investment in general practice and primary care, as promised by the minister, are on hold. We may be able to press pause on our political institutions, but we cannot pause patient illness. The risk of losing GP services in local communities is frightening for individuals and families. Doctors are working under immense pressure to try to care for patients in their community – but there is only so much goodwill and extra work that doctors can offer before they burn out.”