Belfast Telegraph

Are you with or against us? GPs' leader in crisis appeal to next Northern Ireland Health Minister

By Adrian Rutherford

A senior doctor will today deliver an ultimatum to Northern Ireland's politicians, telling them to "work with us or work against us".

Dr Tom Black's intervention follows months of uncertainty over a proposed funding package that would help alleviate the crisis in general practice, and the move towards a system where GP services would have to be delivered outside the NHS.

Dr Black, Northern Ireland's GP leader, is due to make the comments at the annual Local Medical Committee (LMC) conference in Edinburgh, which is attended by doctors from across the UK.

He is expected to tell delegates: "The healthcare system in Northern Ireland needs reform, and plans for reform were agreed before Christmas with civil servants and the previous Health Minister.

"Unfortunately we have since suffered a collapse of our political structures and we have no Assembly, no Executive and no budget.

"We have found that the only thing worse than having politicians is having no politicians.

"We need to see an investment in general practice of an additional £120m to bring us up to the level of spending in the GP Forward View."

In his speech, Dr Black is set to make clear that the pressure GPs were under has pushed them to the current position, and that they would prefer to continue to work within the NHS.

He will say: "Let me be crystal clear; GPs in Northern Ireland are imbued with the values and principles of the NHS and do not want to leave the NHS to adopt private practice provision.

"GPs in Northern Ireland want to stay and work in the NHS in a system where patients receive a universal service, free at the point of need, funded by taxation. We will do this through the twin track approach of offering our co-operation to implement the transformation of the health service in Northern Ireland, transformation that's planned and needed but also by preparing to leave the NHS to protect and preserve a high quality service for our community."

Dr Black is expected to refer to "difficult and dangerous times fraught with risks and challenges".

He will say: "On behalf of NIGPC (Northern Ireland General Practitioners Committee) let me throw down this challenge to the incoming Minister for Health in Northern Ireland: Work with us or work against us.

"(It's) your choice, but be clear - we will protect the GP service for patients in Northern Ireland at all costs, even if this means leaving the NHS."

Speaking at the opening of the conference yesterday, Dr Chaand Nagpaul, chair of the BMA's UK-wide General Practitioners Committee, gave his support for colleagues here.

Dr Nagpaul said: "I'd like to make special mention of the plight of our colleagues in Northern Ireland, facing a lack of functioning government, hung out to dry with no signs of investment, strategy or support, and to say that the rest of UK GPs are completely behind you in your actions to protect yourselves and patients."

Delegates from across the UK will debate and vote on a motion calling on an incoming Executive to invest in general practice by at least the equivalent investment that has been made in England, Scotland and Wales.

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