BMA: GPs cannot take any more stress and urgent investment is needed

A doctor wearing a BMA badge next to her stethoscope. Photo: Andrew Matthews/PA Wire
A doctor wearing a BMA badge next to her stethoscope. Photo: Andrew Matthews/PA Wire

I am writing in response to the Morning View column of August 30 2016 (Burden on GPs needs to be cut but not by splurging more cash)

General Practice is one of the key bedrocks of every community in Northern Ireland and is the first point of contact for 90% of health and social care-related needs here.  Yet the Northern Ireland government is sleep-walking towards a crisis in primary care in this country.

Dr Tom Black

Dr Tom Black

Our recent survey on the state of primary care in Northern Ireland that was published in June (entitled ‘General Practice in Crisis – a report on primary care in Northern Ireland’) found that 74% of practices here are struggling to cope with workloads while nearly 10% said they are ‘barely coping’.  The situation is particularly bad for smaller, single-handed and rural practices that have fewer GPs working in them and who are struggling to fill vacancies. Indeed, the majority of rural practices in NI are at risk of closure due to workforce and workload issues. 

General Practice simply cannot take the stress any longer.

Your headline stated ‘Burden on GPs needs to be cut but not by splurging more cash’, but to prevent the absolute collapse of General Practice in this country, investment cannot be avoided. 

We need meaningful investment urgently to ensure that patients in Northern Ireland have a responsive, safe and sustainable primary care service that they know will be there when they need it.

Investment goes hand-in-hand with immediate action from government, which is why we’re also calling for a GP Taskforce to support at-risk practices in danger of collapse and a national standard for patient consultations per-day (25 consultations per-day is the EU standard, yet NI GPs can see anywhere upwards of 45 per-day); a review of the escalating bureaucracy facing GPs so more time can be spent with patients; more training places for GPs; funding for an expanded primary care team to include mental health practitioners, health visitors, advance nurse practitioners, physiotherapists and physician associates and; investment in out of hours.

The actions we have outlined if implemented will go some way to address the crisis facing General Practice and allow us to focus on the most important part of our jobs, caring for patients.

• Dr Tom Black is chair NI General Practitioners’ Committee of the BMA