Dr Laurence Dorman, chair of the Royal College of GPs in Northern Ireland, insisted, however, that the ‘phone first’ system introduced by most practices during the coronavirus pandemic is helpful in trying to meet the demand from patients.
His comments, made on BBC Radio Ulster, come after the outgoing Health Minister Robin Swann said that “some more work” is needed to ensure patients in Northern Ireland can access GPs.
Dr Dorman, speaking to the Nolan Show yesterday morning, said: “There definitely is a problem. Our patients are not getting the service that they deserve.
“But as well as that, I’m hearing from our members. Our GPs have never worked harder.
“Speaking to some of my colleagues recently this week, they are demoralised and afraid. Some of them are telling me they are working 11 to 12 hour days with no break. Many of them are telling me they can’t sleep because they are afraid of missing diagnoses because of the demand on their time.”
He added: “We are struggling to meet the demand.
“You’ve heard the figures — 200,000 patients per week are contacting our surgeries and we simply do not have the staff.”
Mr Swann, meanwhile, said in a statement earlier this week: “The problems facing general practice even before the pandemic were not new – increasing patient demand as the local population gets older, combined with the changing demographics and working patterns within the GP workforce all had contributed to a growing number of pressures within the service. It’s regrettable that for so long obvious problems were left unaddressed.”
The outgoing minister added: “Within weeks of taking office I recognised the service was in a perilous position and that’s why I asked for key reforms to be accelerated.”