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400 GPs needed for 'struggling' out-of-hours service in Northern Ireland

By Donna Deeney

Another 400 doctors are needed to address a shortfall in out-of-hours provision in Northern Ireland, it has been warned.

Currently the average GP has more than 2,000 patients on their books. Dr Tom Black, who chairs the BMA's Northern Ireland GP committee, said the workload is affecting the out-of-hours service, adding that at least 400 extra GPs are needed.

The warning comes as emergency departments in the Western Trust are reporting a "particularly busy" period.

Dr Black said: "For every one person who goes to A&E, three will go to GP out-of-hours, which is what we expect and that is the way it is meant to be.

"The problem with the current situation with the out-of-hours service is very simple - there isn't enough GPs.

"The GPs we do have are concentrating more and more on their daytime work, which is when most of the work is done, but that means they are not available for the out-of-hours and therefore the out-of-hours service is struggling.

"The average number of patients per GP is more than 2,000. In the 1950s it was more like 1,500 per GP, which is the level we need to get back to, but in order to do that we need another 300 to 400 GPs."

A spokeswoman for the Health and Social Care Board said patients whose needs are "urgent" should be contacted within an hour.

She said: "The GP out-of-hours service in the Western area experienced exceptionally high demand over the Christmas period. However, the majority of patients with the most urgent need received a call back from a GP or nurse within 60 minutes.

"Patients with less urgent conditions may have to wait longer for a call back during busy periods."

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