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Minister’s inaction could be disastrous for patient

By Dr Tom Black

Patients across Northern Ireland have been failed and the very fabric of our health service is threatened due to the inaction of Health Minister Michael McGimpsey.

Come April 1, there is a real possibility that general practitioners across the province will be unable to offer you the healthcare that you require, potentially finding themselves in legal limbo with disastrous consequences.

This is not an April Fool’s prank.

Mr McGimpsey has not yet signed off the UK-wide contract that enables family doctors to provide care in their local communities, citing the need for more time to set his spending priorities within a budget that is inadequate to provide for the needs of the people of Northern Ireland.

Don’t get me wrong. Doctors have some sympathy with the minister in terms of the need for improved resources to deliver healthcare — GPs in particular are reeling from a clawback of up to £45,000 per practice which will inevitably, regrettably, lead to reduced services for you.

The incoming, fully negotiated contract for 2011–2012 is one that is fundamental to the running of the health service.

It will come into force in England, Scotland and Wales on April 1. It is unprecedented for any Health Minister to fail to sign up.

But unless this contract is implemented in Northern Ireland, you will not benefit from these changes.

The present situation reflects poorly on our locally elected minister.

In the last days of this Assembly our politicians need to resolve this issue, otherwise they will be complicit in the implosion of your health service.

Dr Tom Black is deputy chair of the British Medical Association’s Northern Ireland General Practitioners Committee

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