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£20k 'golden hello' won't cure lack of GPs, experts warn

By Victoria O'Hara

Published 15/05/2015

Dr John O'Kelly
Dr John O'Kelly

Paying new GPs a £20,000 'golden hello' to attract them into working for struggling Northern Ireland practices is not the answer to tackling the workforce crisis, leading doctors have warned.

Dr John O'Kelly, from the Royal College of General Practitioners (RCGP), and Dr Tom Black, of the British Medical Association (BMA), said Health Minister Simon Hamilton had to address the training of new GPs.

They claimed the current position was "past money solving" and said more GPs needed to be trained or their workload reduced.

The comments came as a £250,000 NHS-supported scheme in England offered GPs up to £20,000 to join practices. But only three out of 16 practices have been able to find doctors. The idea was floated here but never agreed.

There is, however, a 'returners' scheme that targets retired or semi-retired doctors, paying them around £79 per session or about £158 a day to go back to work.

But Dr Black said the uptake here had been small. "If you offered GPs ready to retire thousands of pounds, they wouldn't stay," he added. "On average, GPs are having 47 consultations, writing 172 scripts and 35 blood results a day and all the paperwork."

Dr O'Kelly said there was "huge frustration" at a lack of action on three previous reports.

"I've worked with three Health Ministers in 18 months and we have been saying the same things," he added.

"We have had report after report telling the department what is needed, but nothing has happened."

Currently, 65 GP training places are funded via the Northern Ireland Medical and Dental Training Agency each year. But the RCGP and BMA say this needs to rise to 111. Shortages were acknowledged by a 2006 department review and a 2010 Deloitte report.

The BMA and RCGP have both asked to meet with Mr Hamilton.

A Department of Health spokeswoman said up to £15m of investment in primary care services was announced in April. She added: "Annually, over £36m is provided to provide support the education of undergraduates. Any increase to the number of GP trainees would require increased funding, and any decisions will need to take account of the overall funding position for health."

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