Belfast Telegraph

Tenth of NI GP practices 'could shut this year'

By Michael McHugh

As many as one in 10 GP practices is expected to close in Northern Ireland this year, a doctors' union warned.

Dr Tom Black called for an additional investment of £120m in general practice.

Reform has been delayed by the collapse of Stormont powersharing.

The senior medic warned when 60% of doctors signed undated resignation letters they would decide on whether to leave the NHS.

He said: "The NHS in Northern Ireland is in its greatest crisis since its inception."

Dr Black, who is chairman of Northern Ireland's GP Committee (NIGPC), was addressing a conference in Edinburgh yesterday.

He said: "We expect to lose between 5 and 10% of GP practices this year and we have already lost more than a quarter of GP practices in Co Fermanagh so far this year."

Dr Black said plans for reform were agreed before Christmas with civil servants and the previous Health Minister. After the collapse of the power-sharing negotiations and lack of an agreed budget, Northern Ireland's healthcare system has been left shrouded in uncertainty.

Dr Black added: "We cannot stand by and watch the destruction of the general practice through neglect, prejudice and incompetence."

A 'Plan B' of options for dealing with the crisis is due to be distributed by the British Medical Association (BMA) in Northern Ireland to GPs this summer.

Dr Black added: "GPs in Northern Ireland want to stay in the NHS and work under Plan A where patients receive a universal service, free at the point of need, funded by taxation.

"Unfortunately, however, at the moment it looks like it won't be a choice between an NHS service or a private GP service.

"It looks like it will be a choice between an absent collapsed GP service and Plan B alternatives."

A Department of Health spokesman said: "The department acknowledges the vital role played by general practitioners and continues to consider this issue in context of the broader financial envelope."

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