Open letter to health minister from doctors: ‘We need action to tackle GP crisis’

Stormont's new health minister Michelle O'Neill
Stormont's new health minister Michelle O'Neill

This is an open letter to the Stormont Health Minister, Michelle O’Neill from 169 general practitioners in Northern Ireland. It will be presenter to the minister this morning at a meeting:

Dear Michelle O’Neill,

Dr John O'Kelly (chairperson Royal College General Practioners in Northern Ireland)

Dr John O'Kelly (chairperson Royal College General Practioners in Northern Ireland)

We are writing to you concerning the GP-led Working Group report.

This report came as a result of the pooling of expertise of a group of experts, brought together by the government last autumn in acknowledgement of the crisis in general practice.

Since its publication in March 2016 we have seen little to no movement on this issue.

The report highlights nine main recommendations laying out how to improve services for patients.

The Royal College for General Practitioners in Northern Ireland (RCGPNI) is calling for the recommendations to be implemented in full.

In order to address the major challenges facing general practice, RCGPNI is also calling for action in these particular areas:

• Increase the general practice workforce by 400 FTE by 2020 – by introducing measures for both local and overseas recruitment.

In addition, complete research into overall GP workforce requirements is needed for the next decade, taking into account the changing demographic in the GP workforce

• Increase investment in general practice to 11% of the total health and social care budget, with additional funding being spent on patient care and services, accompanied by robust governance and monitoring to ensure that investment is spent on GP services

• Increase the number of GP training places per year to 111 by 2020 and encourage more undergraduates to consider a career in general practice by increasing exposure to GP in medical school

• Implement a package of measures to support struggling GPs and to retain the existing GP workforce, particularly in rural areas and in small practices

• Improve the patient experience when interacting with general practice by developing a business case for ring-fenced recurrent resources to support improvement and upgrade of GP premises

• For the Department of Health to develop a comprehensive, properly funded GP Out of Hours service to include information to patients on its role, expansion to include a range of health professionals and a regional training programme for all staff.

• Provide opportunities for GPs to enhance their skills and the skills of their wider general practice team such as leadership, management and communications

• Embrace new ways of working and embed the GP Federations model in Northern Ireland so that Federations become self-sustaining by April 2018

• Increase the volume of Patient Participation in practices and improve communications with patients

• Implement the findings from the General Practice Nursing “Now and the Future” A Commissioning Framework for Northern Ireland

Please consider the GP-led report, alongside these specific asks, and devise a plan of action based on its recommendations as soon as possible.

Yours sincerely,

Dr John O’Kelly and 168 other GPs.

• Dr O’Kelly is chair of the Royal College of General Practitioners in Northern Ireland