Belfast Telegraph

Friday 22 August 2014

GPs slam plan to give everyone an annual health check

Health Minister Edwin Poots
Health Minister Edwin Poots

Doctors have warned that a Stormont plan to make everyone across Northern Ireland undergo an annual health check would cripple the NHS.

The British Medical Association (BMA) in Northern Ireland has accused the health committee of ignoring advice from the union that such a move, based on a Cuban model, would actually harm patients.

Following a debate on the subject at Stormont on Monday, MLAs voted unanimously in favour of the motion which GPs have said will leave them unable to treat sick people.

Sue Ramsey, chair of the Stormont health committee, proposed the motion calling for Health Minister Edwin Poots to make it mandatory for GPs to provide annual checks for all patients to help promote good health, prevent ill-health and detect disease at an early stage.

MLAs voted in favour of implementing a scheme similar to one in Cuba in which everyone visits their local GP every year for a range of tests, as well as speaking to patients about their mental health.

The idea is that the results would be used to identify patients at risk of developing or who are in the early stages of preventable illnesses, such as diabetes, depression or high blood pressure and then treat them accordingly.

However, if implemented, it would mean hard-pressed doctors and nurses would have to organise and carry out at least an additional 1.8m appointments every year.

The Royal College of Nursing (RCN) has also raised concerns over the ability of the health service to deliver such a programme.

Janice Smyth, director of the RCN in Northern Ireland, said: "We have yet to see evidence suggesting this would deliver health benefits but it would have massive implications for the nursing workforce.

"There are not enough nurses at the moment to deliver such a scheme."

Dr Tom Black, chair of the BMA (NI) GP committee, said: "It is extremely disappointing that when medical professionals present clear and unambiguous research to show this shouldn't be done, it is a waste of time and would cause harm to patients, that politicians take the view they know better." It comes just days after the Belfast Telegraph revealed GPs across Northern Ireland are at loggerheads with the Department of Health, Social Services and Public Safety over proposed changes to their contracts.

A major row is brewing between doctors and health bosses, who have drawn up the controversial proposals and plan to implement them even without agreement from GPs.

However, GPs in Northern Ireland have claimed their new contract, which is due to come into force at the beginning of April, will mean they will spend all their time ticking boxes rather than caring for patients.

They expect the new contract will mean a 15% increase in their workload.

At the same time, more work is being shifted into the community under Transforming Your Care, a review of health and social care in Northern Ireland, which will result in a further 20% rise in GP workload.

"If politicians want us to stop seeing 1.8m sick people then we will be able to implement an annual health check. GP surgeries are struggling to cope with demand," Dr Black said.

Background

The debate at Stormont on Monday came about as a result of a visit to Cuba by the chair of the Stormont health committee, Sue Ramsey, and deputy chair, Jim Wells. The pair travelled to Havana last December to take part in a health conference in an effort to find ways to tackle health inequalities in Northern Ireland. However, speaking at Stormont on Monday, Health Minister Edwin Poots raised concerns that such a scheme would be difficult to replicate in Northern Ireland.

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