Patient care risk as NI GPs to withdraw some services

Many common GP services could disappear during the protest
Many common GP services could disappear during the protest

GPs in Northern Ireland will withdraw certain services over their “spiralling workload” and “the current crisis in primary care”.

That announcement came from the British Medical Association, a trade union representing doctors and medical students.

Dr Tom Black.

Dr Tom Black.

One GP, who said she does not agree with the measures, warned that patients will suffer because of the cutbacks.

The measures include referring patients back to hospitals for test results and appointments, no longer arranging out-patient ambulance transport and no longer completing insurance or PIP paperwork.

It will likely become more difficult for patients to see their GP with further use of telephone triage “to make sure they (GPs) only see patients who actually need to see a doctor”.

GPs will also encourage the use of over-the-counter medications, meaning it will likely become more difficult for patients to access certain prescriptions.

The BMA say GPs may also choose to close their list to new patients and may introduce half-day closing of practices.

Dr Tom Black, chair of the BMA’s Northern Ireland GP committee, said: “In the absence of a rescue plan for general practice, and to help address the ongoing crisis and as a response to funding cuts, we have had to take steps to withdraw some services, so that we can maintain our core service – seeing patients.”

Dr Anne McCloskey, a GP based in Londonderry who has previously stood for election as an independent candidate, agreed that general practice in Northern Ireland faces great difficulties but said “cutting patients out” was not the solution.

She said: “General practice is under-funded but the solution isn’t to make the people of no property cut from the service we provide to them.

“I don’t agree with what the BMA are saying. We need to restructure the health service, we need more GPs and we need to make general practice more attractive to people.

“The important thing is that patients should be able to come without being screened out and have their concerns taken seriously.

“The paperwork is a concern but it is a service for people who maybe have no other advocate.”

She said the idea of encouraging the use of ‘telephone triage’ would be particularly harmful for patients.

“Telephone triage won’t work, not for real people. People should be allowed to say they want to see a doctor.

“If someone phones up and says they’re feeling generally unwell, and they are told to take two paracetamol because they can’t see a doctor, what happens if that person is having serious mental health problems?”

The News Letter has asked the Department of Health for comment, but so far has received no reply.