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GPs 'can help solve health crisis'

Incentive scheme would take pressure off hospitals, says SDLP chief

By Michael McHugh

Published 20/04/2015

Alasdair McDonnell at his party’s manifesto launch last week
Alasdair McDonnell at his party’s manifesto launch last week

An incentive scheme should be introduced to encourage GPs to screen more patients in Northern Ireland, the leader of the SDLP said.

Former community doctor Alasdair McDonnell said testing the majority for high blood pressure and other common complaints helped to pick up potentially serious conditions earlier.

Dr McDonnell is standing for election in a tight race in South Belfast.

He advocated shifting more of the burden away from casualty departments and hospitals into primary care by linking relatively small payments to practitioners to how many patients were checked.

He said: "We need to make primary care work, otherwise there will be queues into casualty and trolley waits."

Dr McDonnell noted an earlier incentive scheme was abandoned.

"Instead of crashing the incentive scheme, what they need to do is review the costs, streamline the costs."

He said the money should be spent more efficiently and added that the performance-related payments would be relatively small.

"There needs to be a much more effective strategy in the health service. Some years ago we brought in a new GPs' contract and it was working very well in terms of preventative care and all the rest.

"It was working so well that they decided to pull the plug on it two or three years ago, because they said it would be too expensive.

"That was a mistake and why today hospitals and casualty departments are cluttered."

He claimed if 4-5% of the workload of hospitals was shifted to primary care it would take the pressure off everybody.

"We pay a lot of lip service to primary care, but never quite do what is necessary to allow primary care to work."

The Department of Health in Northern Ireland operates Transforming Your Care, a policy designed to relieve the strain on hospitals. It is aimed at realising value for money, maximising the use of technology and incentivising innovation at a local level here.

Meanwhile, Ukip in Northern Ireland has been outlining some of its own commitments to health.

Ukip's Westminster candidate for Mid Ulster, Alan Day, said: "On health we will ensure that GPs' surgeries are open at least one evening per week, where there is demand for it.

"And we will be investing a full extra £130m a year into researching and treating dementia by 2017.

"We also propose to increase the Carers' Allowance from £62.10 per week to £73.10 per week."

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