Stormont stalemate ‘a huge barrier’ to improving NI’s health system, says BMA

Dr Tom Black, chair of the BMA in Northern Ireland
Dr Tom Black, chair of the BMA in Northern Ireland

The current political stalemate at Stormont is a huge barrier to progressing change in our healthcare system, the British Medical Association (BMA) has said.

The Northern Ireland chair of the BMA – the trade union which represents all doctors in the UK – made the comment in his response to the publication of the Medical School Places Review report, which reveals that the Province needs more doctors in order to meet future demand.

Read full story - Expanding medical student places in NI could cost £30m a year, department reveals

Commenting on the findings of the review, Dr Tom Black said: “The recommendations in this report do not come as a surprise to the profession. We have said for some time now that a long term view needs to be taken when assessing numbers needed within the medical workforce.

“As the report points out, training to become a doctor can take up to 13 years so while we fully support a new medical school in the north west (at Ulster University’s Magee campus) and an increase in training places, that alone will not address our current issues.

“The report points out that we need to do more to attract doctors from other parts of the UK to Northern Ireland. To do that we will need to see services transformed and parity of pay and conditions with doctors working elsewhere in the UK.”

The Londonderry-based GP continued: “If we are to increase the numbers of young people going into medical school to the recommended 445 we will also have to look at how we widen participation, how do we make sure that any young person, no matter what their background, is encouraged and supported to become a doctor. With a debt level of up to £100,000 on finishing training, many young people will simply decide not to study medicine.

“The idea of a bursary [recommendation six] would need to be explored; while it seems a good idea on paper the timing of the four years service and the potential for it to be split into sections should be examined. Working abroad, even for a short period of time, can greatly enhance a doctor’s skills; but we must make sure they want to come back to Northern Ireland to work and develop their long-term career.”

Dr Black added: “The current political stalemate is a huge barrier to progressing change in our health system; doctors and patients need the transformation programme to be fully implemented and we need a health minister in place as soon as possible.”