Belfast Telegraph

Northern Ireland GPs' mass resignation threat over care crisis

By Allan Preston

Family doctors in Northern Ireland are threatening to quit en masse if Stormont fails to deliver a rescue package for struggling local surgeries.

Dr Tom Black, chairman of the BMA's NI General Practitioners Committee, warned of an "escalating crisis" and said general practice will collapse in two years in Northern Ireland if action is not taken.

In March a motion passed by the Local Medical Committee agreed to take action if a rescue plan wasn't delivered within six months.

GPs will now be asked if they are willing to send resignation letters to Health Minister Michelle O'Neill.

Dr Black said pressures such as increasing workloads, a shrinking workforce, funding cuts and an unsafe out-of-hours service had forced the "drastic action".

Other demands include increasing GP training place numbers to 111, and acting on recommendations in a report by a GP-led working group.

The BMA say there will be "mass resignations of practices from their contracts" if enough members submit undated resignation letters.

The Health Minister said the concerns had her "full attention" after recent meetings with local GP representatives. She added that she was currently considering the GP-led report about future health funding priorities.

Mrs O'Neill pointed to increased investment in general practice, with an investment package of £5.1 million in 2015/16 and up to a further £7m in 2016/17.

She said: "£1.2m per year is also being made to increase the number of GP training places to 85 each year, up from 65. A five-year initiative to place up to 300 pharmacists in GP practices by 2020/21 is under way and will see total investment rising to £14m per year."

She added that a further £900,000 was recently invested in 17 GP federations in Northern Ireland to meet growing patient demand and provide more community-based services.

The Health Minister said she would have more to say this autumn when setting out her vision for health and social care.

The DUP chair of Stormont's health committee Paula Bradley said she recognised the pressures on GPs and pointed to a £1.2m investment by the former Health Minister Simon Hamilton, which led to 20 extra GP training places.

UUP MLA Jo-Anne Dobson said GPs could not be ignored any longer: "Failure to act on this issue will lead to a total collapse of our primary care system. I support the call for an urgent rescue plan."

The SDLP's Mark H Durkan said he fully supported a rescue package: "Clearly the crisis we've been warned about for some time is upon us," he added.

He said increasing GP training numbers to 111 "wasn't too big an ask" and called for a medical training college in the north west to cope with extra pressure in areas like Fermanagh.

Alliance MLA Paula Bradshaw called for health reforms which emphasised supporting primary care through clinical networks and appropriate area plans.

Belfast Telegraph


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