Stormont crisis: Failing politicians have left Northern Ireland NHS on the brink of collapse, warn top doctors
Northern Ireland's NHS will remain on life support unless politicians take urgent action to address the GP crisis, leading doctors have warned.
Dr Tom Black, a family doctor with the British Medical Association, said the problem was so severe it threatened to "collapse the whole of the NHS" here.
Mr Black called on the political parties to reach agreement on the future of the service and for a future health minister to make that a reality.
"We cannot continue to run our health service in the same way and expect that services will magically improve," he said.
"If we keep doing what we are doing, then by 2023 health will require 90% of the budget.
"The first thing we need is political agreement on the next steps for the NHS and a health minister prepared to do the job.
"Broadly speaking, our problem is that we have diluted our resources too thinly across too many hospital sites, and we need to focus our services on fewer sites to make them more efficient and effective.
"We have already done this for cancer services and in cardiology, and those services have improved as a result."
Meanwhile, a leading doctors' union warned that the Stormont stalemate was causing the "uncontrolled collapse" of GP services, with 20 surgeries expected to close in the next year.
The NI General Practitioners Committee also launched a strong attack on politicians for "walking out the door" and leaving behind a health service in crisis.
"It is critical now," a spokesman for the organisation said. "This isn't about GPs trying to create a fuss, this is about patient safety. It is about trying to sustain a service that is safe and effective for patients, and at the moment that is proving almost impossible.
"You look for strong leadership and inspiration from a leader. We have leaders who have just walked out the door and left the whole thing behind.
"In terms of messages and morale, you can't underestimate the effect that will have."
In the past few months, at least three GP surgeries have been forced to close due to increasing demand on services.
The GP Committee predicted that "as many as 20 will close over the next year or so". "This will be due to a combination of pressure and retirement of GPs, with nobody to replace them", the spokesman warned.
Dr John D Woods, chair of the British Medical Association's Northern Ireland Council, said the problems had reached a critical point.
"The crisis in primary care, with GP practices facing closure across the country, is well-documented and will not improve without additional resources," Mr Woods added.
He also stressed that without political agreement, nothing would change.
"Without a minister, a functioning Assembly and an agreed budget, no progress will be made on transforming health here, which in turn impacts negatively on both the medical profession and patients," Mr Woods said.