GPs forced to axe vital services as £5m cutbacks bite
GP surgeries across Northern Ireland are cutting back on services, staff and opening hours to make ends meet after £5m was cut from their budgets.
Beleaguered family doctors are facing cuts of up to £50,000 this year and say they have no option but to stop providing some services in order to keep other treatments available.
It is likely to become increasingly difficult to get an appointment at your local practice and vital services — such as clinics to help patients manage chronic conditions such as diabetes, travel vaccinations and minor surgery — are also in the firing line.
This means that more patients are currently relying on hospital treatment.
Most recent government figures show hospitals are already struggling to cope with demand so the reduction of services in the primary care sector could have devastating consequences on the health service in Northern Ireland.
The British Medical Association (BMA), a leading doctors’ union, has surveyed members across Northern Ireland to find out what measures they have been forced to implement in light of a series of savage budget cuts imposed by the Health & Social Care Board last year.
Releasing the findings of the survey yesterday, the BMA warned that health services in the community and jobs throughout Northern Ireland were under threat.
The BMA has launched a campaign to protect GP surgeries — widely regarded as the gatekeeper of the health service — and presented a petition with 32,000 patients’ signatures to Stormont yesterday calling for an end to budget cuts.
Larne GP Dr Brian Dunn, chairman of the BMA’s GP committee in Northern Ireland, said: “GPs are feeling totally overwhelmed by this significant cut to their |budgets and see it as yet another attack on a vital part of the health service.
“However, short-sighted cuts are being imposed on general practice teams with seemingly |little or no thought given as to how these cuts will impact on the health service as a whole.
“The tens of thousands of patients who have signed our petition clearly see the need for a properly resourced general practice service.
“Regrettably our local decision- makers do not seem to appreciate the service that they have.”
Dr Paul Darragh, chairman of the BMA Council in Northern Ireland, said: “We are already seeing a rise in waiting times for patients for their first appointments and we have highlighted repeatedly the scandal that is the wait for review appointments.
“To then prevent general practice from undertaking work, such as minor surgery or holding clinics, and force them to refer more patients to hospital does not make sense, either economically or in terms of patient care.”
”The BMA would urge our decision makers to think again and to sit down with us so that we can work constructively together to improve our health service.”
Last August, the Belfast Telegraph revealed funding for family doctors in Northern Ireland had been slashed by £3.6m. GPs were told about the cuts just days before they happened. A further £1.5m was subsequently removed. The development led the British Medical Association to accuse Health Minister Michael McGimpsey (right) of doing a U-turn on his pledge to protect frontline services from the financial crisis facing the health service. A reduction in services provided by GPs is likely to lead to a surge in the number of emergency hospital admissions at a time when hospitals are struggling to cope with demand.