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£9.5m injection to help Northern Ireland health service cope with growing pressure

By Lisa Smyth

Health officials today announced a cash injection of almost £9.5m to help address pressures on Northern Ireland's ailing NHS.

GP services are to receive £8.8m, while a further £650,000 is to be given to the Southern Trust in a bid to secure the future of the emergency department (ED) at Daisy Hill Hospital in Newry.

The Department of Health has confirmed details of an investment package as part of a long-term plan to sustain and bolster urgent and emergency care at the Newry hospital.

It includes the initial £650,000 this year from the Department's health and social care transformation fund.

The package also includes a £1m capital funding allocation this year from the Southern Trust, to improve infrastructure at the hospital site.

Last year, the Southern Trust highlighted difficulties in maintaining a safe and sustainable ED service at Daisy Hill due to difficulties in staffing a viable consultant rota.

This led to the establishment of the Daisy Hill Hospital Pathfinder Group (DHHPG) as a mechanism for engagement with the local workforce and community to develop a viable response to the situation.

The work carried out by the DHHPG has led to the investment package confirmed today.

Department of Health Permanent Secretary Richard Pengelly said: "Co-production is much more than just a buzzword in health and social care.

"It means working step by step with those who deliver and use services to build for the future by sharing the evidence about how best to meet the healthcare needs of local populations, and taking the right decisions for the right reasons.

"Today's Daisy Hill Hospital announcement shows co-production in action - and delivering for everyone. Great credit and thanks must go to the Pathfinder Group, and to the workforce and community representatives who have helped make this happen."

The £8.8m for GP services in Northern Ireland brings this year's total investment in GPs and related services to nearly £22m - the largest funding allocation for general practice since 2004.

Family doctors have long struggled to cope with workload as more work is shifting into the community and fewer people are receiving care in hospitals. Known as 'the shift left', it has been recommended as the best possible way to ensure the health service can continue to provide safe and sustainable care.

However, funding was not immediately made available and a number of GPs have left the profession in recent years as a result of intolerable working conditions.

The GP workload has also increased dramatically in recent years as they manage tens of thousands of patients waiting years for hospital appointments or operations to treat painful and debilitating conditions.

The £8.8m announced today includes £4.54m for the Practice Based Pharmacist scheme, which is freeing up GP time and helping ensure the safe and effective use of medicines for better patient care. By the end of the year, there will be close to 200 pharmacists working across practices in Northern Ireland.

In addition, £1.8m will be used to address demographic pressures on GP practices, such as rising populations and more people with long-term conditions, while £1.5m has been identified to improve and expand practice premises and a further £1m will address the rising costs of medical indemnity cover.

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