Plan to give young GPs £20k to work in rural areas should be rolled out here, says BMA
A scheme that sees general practitioners in training given a 'golden hello' of £20,000 if they start their careers in rural areas should be rolled out across Northern Ireland, the chair of the local British Medical Association (BMA) committee has said.
Conservative Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt is to introduce a package of measures to help the struggling GP workforce.
This includes a one-off payment to try to entice 200 GPs who are beginning their careers to work in areas struggling to secure family doctors - such as rural practices and those by the seaside.
Dr Tom Black, chair of BMA Northern Ireland's GP committee, has called for a similar scheme to be used here to help plug the GP shortage.
"It is clear from this announcement that England also has a GP crisis, however their government is at least making some attempt to address the issue," he said.
"We really need a similar announcement for Northern Ireland, our rural practices face the same issues as in England, if not more so. We have already seen practice closures in Fermanagh and there is no sign of that improving.
"Recruitment and retention issues are also being exacerbated by the destabilising effect that indemnity rises will create in general practice, and the lack of a contract settlement for 2017-18.
"We need a government in place to implement the GP-led care review plan that was agreed by the Department of Health (NI) nearly a year ago."
Northern Ireland is facing a major shortage of GPs covering rural areas which has led to the closure of some surgeries.
A number of practices in rural areas, particularly in Co Fermanagh, have been struggling to fill posts with permanent GPs.
The British Government announced that, from 2018, surgeries in hard to recruit to areas will benefit from the new £4 million scheme.
Addressing the Royal College of GPs annual conference in Liverpool, Mr Hunt announced plans for flexible working for older GPs to encourage them to stay in the workforce for longer before retiring.
Professor Helen Stokes-Lampard, chairwoman of the Royal College of GPs, said: "We have an incredibly serious shortage of GPs right across the country, but there are some areas that struggle to recruit more than others and often they are in remote and rural areas, so this commitment to incentivise working in these areas is welcome.
"GPs and practice teams in remote and rural areas face unique challenges - but when the service is adequately resourced to meet patients' specific needs, they can also be fantastic and rewarding places to work."
Dr Richard Vautrey, chairman of the BMA's GP committee, said: "GP is facing unprecedented pressure from rising workload, stagnating budgets and a workforce crisis that has left many parts of the country without enough GPs to treat patients.
"These proposals do appear to acknowledge the specific problems facing rural areas in England. But 'golden hellos' are not a new idea and unlikely to solve the overall workforce crisis given we are failing badly to train enough GPs to meet current demands.
"There is already an incentive programme for 'hard to recruit areas' that has been operating since 2016 and it is not clear whether this new announcement, which comes without any real details, is any different from that scheme."