30,000 patients demand action over 'growing GP crisis'
Excessive workloads, fewer doctors, and inadequate funding have plunged general practice in Northern Ireland into crisis, the Assembly has heard.
Paula Bradley MLA handed over a petition signed by more than 30,000 patients calling for action, and urged Health Minister Michelle O'Neill to commit 10% of the department's budget to GP services.
Ms Bradley stressed the need to train more GPs every year.
The DUP representative told MLAs: "General practice is one of the bedrocks of every community in Northern Ireland and the first point of contact for 90% of health and social care-related needs.
"However, general practice is now in crisis owing to an excessive workload, a diminishing workforce and inadequate funding.
"The petition being submitted today has been signed by over 30,000 patients from across Northern Ireland and calls on the Minister of Health to ensure the survival of general practice throughout Northern Ireland by investing 10% of the Northern Ireland healthcare budget in a safe, sustainable GP service for patients and funding for general practice, which is significantly reduced despite the growing demand."
She added: "Our population is increasing, with a greater proportion of people living longer and patients with more complex and lifelong conditions. Proper investment needs to be made if general practice is to survive. At present, we do not have enough GPs to service the population in Northern Ireland. The petition calls on the minister to increase training numbers immediately to 111. The increase from 65 to 85 training places this year is very welcome, but does not go far enough to meet the demand.
"A quarter of Northern Ireland GPs are over 55 and due to retire in the very near future, with not enough coming through to replace them. Inevitably, we are already seeing practices collapsing.
"During the summer, we saw practices close not only in our rural communities - there are other reasons for that, including that we cannot get GPs to go out as far as rural communities - but in our urban communities. Only in the summer, we saw a large practice in Bangor close as a result of having a lack of GPs. If that is allowed to continue, it will put pressure on surrounding practices and create the real threat that many people will be left without access to a GP.
"The petition also calls for reduced bureaucracy and a better-improved IT system, because GPs want to spend as much time as possible caring and providing for their patients."
Stormont speaker Robin Newton told Ms Bradley he would pass a copy of the petition to Ms O'Neill's department.