400 new GPs needed to stem waiting list crisis in Northern Ireland
At least 400 more GPs must be found to work in Northern Ireland in the next five years to deal with the soaring waiting lists, leading doctors have warned.
In its first action plan launched today, the Royal College of General Practitioners has told the Government urgent action is now needed to address the ongoing crisis among family doctors.
If not, the RCGP warned that general practice in the province was headed towards the cliff edge.
According to the report, Northern Ireland is not training enough GPs as the crisis is driven by the huge pressures of the working environment, and this has resulted in patients not getting enough time with doctors.
In 2013 Northern Ireland had the lowest GP coverage per population in the UK - 6.4 family doctors per 10,000 people. And 25% of GPs here were aged over 55.
The combined effect of GPs retiring, others leaving due to workload pressures, and younger doctors choosing not to become GPs is building up a future crisis.
Earlier this year it emerged there were more than 250 trained GPs from Queen's University currently in Australia, Canada and other Commonwealth countries. And there are warnings that up to 20 surgeries could face closure if GPs were not recruited.
The RCGP has offered a number of potential solutions:
- Growing the GP workforce by 400 over the next five years.
- Investing £8.3m in boosting infrastructure.
- Improving GP premises.
- Action to improve retaining GPs in Northern Ireland.
RCGPNI chair Dr John O'Kelly said: "As a matter of priority, I urge the Northern Ireland Government to increase the number of GPs being trained by the Northern Ireland Medical and Dental Training Agency from 65 to 111.
"An increase in the number of GPs will help deal with rising demand and allow more time to be spent with patients."
A DHSSPS spokesperson said: "The department fully recognises the current challenges within primary care and the vital role of our GPs in delivering care to citizens.
"The department remains committed to working with NIGPC to identify opportunities to address the current and future challenges within primary care.
"Work is ongoing with QUB to expand the exposure to general practice settings within the undergraduate medical curriculum as this is known to encourage students to opt for this as a career."