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GPs to tell Stormont: We need more funds

By Chris Kilpatrick

An urgent shift in health funding is needed to prevent waiting times spiralling and the level of care suffering, GPs have warned.

A petition signed by thousands across Northern Ireland will be presented at Stormont today calling for an increase in the share of the NHS budget spend on general practice.

In Northern Ireland, general practice receives 8.3% of the health budget, despite carrying out more than 90% of all health contacts. The petition calls for an increase of the NHS spend on general practice to 11% by 2017.

The largest GPs body across the UK said the petition came at a time when general practice is approaching crisis point.

The Royal College of GPs (RCGP) said the shift in funding would enable general practice to deliver shorter waiting times for appointments and more flexible opening hours, longer consultations, better continuity of care and positive benefits for the NHS as a whole, reducing pressure on hospitals.

The body's Northern Ireland chair, Dr John O'Kelly, said: "We are approaching a perfect storm in general practice.

"Funding for general practice has dropped by £21.20m from 2008/9 to 2012/13, a percentage decrease of 8.22%. In the past year alone, GP activity has increased by 7% and this is having a significant impact on patient waiting times.

"The situation looks set to get worse unless the government urgently acts. Northern Ireland already has the lowest GP coverage in the UK at only 6.4 GPs per 10,000 population. Added to this, we also have the oldest GP workforce in the UK as almost one quarter of GPs are over 55 years old."

The Executive will receive the petition from the chair of the Assembly Health Committee, Maeve McLaughlin.

"The pressure which GPs are under is beginning to take a toll on patients," Dr O'Kelly said.

"In a ComRes opinion poll carried out for the RCGP, more than three in five people (63%) believed that the numbers of patient consultations which GPs conducted each day - reckoned to be between 40-60 consultations in a majority of cases - is a threat to the standard of care they can provide to patients. More than a third (37%) also said they were concerned that the amount of time they had to wait for an appointment to see their GP could have an impact on their health."

The petition collected more than 300,000 signatures across the UK from patients, GPs and their practice colleagues. 16,208 signatures were collected from Northern Ireland. It was launched as part of the 'Put patients first: Back General Practice' campaign. Dr John O'Kelly said: "All these statistics show that waiting times need to be addressed and that the situation is set to get even worse."

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