Belfast Telegraph

Northern Ireland GPs to cut services as health crisis continues

By Allan Preston

Northern Ireland's GP crisis has deepened after doctors agreed a range of cutbacks to reduce their workload.

The changes will include the increased use of telephone triage, half-day opening hours, referring patients to hospitals for test results, and no longer filling out insurance forms for personal independence payments.

Dr Tom Black, chair of the BMA's Northern Ireland committee for GPs, said funding cuts and the lack of a rescue plan for GPs had forced the withdrawal of services.

A rescue package had been agreed at the end of last year, but no funding has been made available due to the political stalemate at Stormont.

"We've had to take steps to withdraw some services so we can maintain our core service, which is seeing patients," he said.

In addition to cutting back on unnecessary paperwork, Dr Black said patients would be advised that hospitals were responsible for notifying them of the results of any tests, investigations or treatment in hospitals.

More patients will also be encouraged to seek help from their pharmacy before visiting a GP.

"Practices have to prioritise clinical work - actual time spent with patients - by withdrawing some services previously provided by practices. This will free up more GP time for direct patient care," he added.

The committee restated a demand for rescue measures "to prevent the collapse of general practice across the country".

These include investment of 10% of the Northern Ireland healthcare budget on a safe, sustainable GP service for patients as well as training and recruitment of more GPs to allow practices at risk of closure to stay open.

A third demand is for a reduction in bureaucracy and improved IT systems so more time can be spent providing care.

The BMA is continuing to collect undated resignation letters from GPs. If letters from 60% of doctors are collected a vote will be taken to decide on whether GPs should pursue a 'plan B' option to leave the NHS.

In May, Dr Black called for an additional £120m investment and warned: "The NHS is in its greatest crisis since its inception."

Addressing the continuing void at Stormont, he said: "We cannot stand by and watch the destruction of the general practice through neglect, prejudice and incompetence. We have found that the only thing worse than having politicians is having no politicians."

Further concerns were raised over the impact Brexit would have, with uncertainty over whether foreign doctors could keep their jobs.

The Royal College for GPs warned such a scenario would be "disastrous".

Dr Grainne Doran, chair of the RCGP in Northern Ireland, said it was vital that GPs here were protected in the Brexit negotiations.

"General practice is facing serious workforce challenges at the present time," she said.

"We have seen a number of practice closures in recent months and it is essential that actions are taken to support general practice and maintain services for patients."

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