Waiting lists in Northern Ireland will lengthen and GPs will struggle to provide safe care unless greater investment is made in services, an organisation representing doctors has said.
The Royal College of General Practitioners urged health authorities to devote 11% of total NHS funding to general practice by 2017/18.
Northern Ireland chairman Dr John O’Kelly said: “The current approach to the way we fund general practice makes no economic sense at all - as investment is being cut at the very point that demand is soaring.
“General practice is the cornerstone of the NHS and lack of investment in it will have major repercussions for the rest of the NHS.
“Without investment, waiting lists will inevitably get even longer and GPs will struggle to provide good, safe, compassionate care which patients deserve.”
He said patients should be able to get an appointment with their GP when they need one and GPs and practice nurses should be able to concentrate on the person in front of them without worrying about waiting room queues building.
He added: “Government policy under Transforming Your Care is to move services into the community. By investing properly in general practice, we could secure the future of the entire health service - and would be able to deliver more proactive care in the community, therefore preventing unnecessary and expensive admissions to hospital.”
General practice deals with around 90% of contacts with patients in the NHS in Northern Ireland, approximately 10.5 million consultations a year.
This is expected to increase as the population expands and ages and as the number of people living with multiple long-term conditions grows, the College said.
It conducted a survey which found more than three fifths of adults believed the volume of patient consultations threatened the level of care.
President and chair of the National Association for Patient Participation, Dr Patricia Wilkie, said: “Patient care is now being compromised. Many of us are waiting a week or more for consultations and there is a critical need for better continuity of care, particularly for the frail elderly and those with complex needs.
“We believe that there needs to be increased investment in patients and GP care in order to improve and sustain the high standards of quality in patient care that patients need and GPs want to give.”