Almost 90% of Northern Ireland GPs expect “immense strain” again this winter which will impair patient care, a survey has found.
As a result they are making a public appeal for patients to use all available resources for minor ailments before asking to see a GP.
A survey of members of the Royal College of GPs in NI (RCGPNI) found that 89% of them are concerned that pressures on the health service will negatively affect their ability to deliver patient care this winter.
This figure is “unsurprising” given that 95% of GPs agreed that their workload increases over winter, the college said.
Last week the Department of Health said it expected “another difficult winter” for hospitals in NI and across the UK.
The College’s Patient Group, consisting of volunteer patients from across Northern Ireland, has issued a statement reminding people to remember its “3 Before GP” message and to exhaust self care, online support and pharmacy support before taking up GP time for minor ailments.
Patient Group Chair Karen Mooney said: “This winter, we know that our GP practices are going to be under immense strain, and we can do our bit to help support our health service.”
Before seeking out a GP, she urged patients with minor ailments to consider self care at home, finding adequate advice from reputable online resources such as the NI Direct Stay Well website, and seeking advice from a community pharmacist.
“We all have a responsibility to help protect our health services and to make sure that those who are the most ill and vulnerable in our society are able to access the care that they need,” she added.
RCGPNI chair Dr Grainne Doran, said: “Over the winter period, there is no doubt that our workload hugely increases.
“For more minor conditions such as coughs and colds, patients can get great advice and over the counter medicines from local pharmacies. This will be faster and more efficient and will help ensure appointments with a doctor are available for those who need them most. But it is important to remember that if you think you need medical attention, or if symptoms don’t improve, do not hesitate to seek medical advice.”
The Department of Health says a series of “detailed winter resilience initiatives” have been planned to mitigate pressures in the months ahead.