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Top NI medic warns of pressure on GPs as 22 surgeries are in crisis


Dr Tom Black of the British Medical Association.

Dr Tom Black of the British Medical Association.

Dr Tom Black of the British Medical Association.

A leading medic has warned that 22 surgeries in Northern Ireland are in a state of crisis.

Dr Tom Black is chair of the British Medical Association’s Northern Ireland Council and has spoken of the increasing pressure on GPs here. 

Speaking on BBC Good Morning Ulster, Dr Black spoke of his concerns after the Department of Health said the number of GP surgeries in Northern Ireland have dropped by around 10% in eight years.

The number of patients per practice has also increased by around 15%.

This week, it also emerged that the Priory and Springhill surgeries in Co Down will shut early next year unless more GPs can be recruited to take over.

“It’s been building up over the last decade or more, the problem we have now is of course the huge workload from the Covid pandemic and waiting lists,” he said.

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"So if you ask a GP on the ground ‘what’s the problem at the moment,’ they would say ‘our patients are waiting years to be seen in hospital, during that time they come to the doctor far more often than usual’.’”

He said this was forcing many GP surgeries to become overwhelmed and ultimately shut their doors.

Dr Black said steady funding cuts over the last 15 years had seen salaries for consultants and GPs drop by around 30%.

A decade ago, he said only 65 GPs were being trained a year which did not meet demand.

He said the Health Minister Robin Swann had taken steps to improve this, with 111 being trained in the last year, and 120 set for next year.

"In a few years time we will be sustainable, but you can see all these things coming together and Covid in addition has caused huge pressures in the system.”

Asked if GPs were simply retiring or leaving over stress, Dr Black said there was a 50% increase in retirements.

He said this was down to “perverse taxation” arrangements, which meant those staying on would attract “huge tax bills” to pension arrangements.

Dr Black said a small number of GPs stay on after retirement age, but the increased workload and associated risk made that unsustainable.

Looking ahead to his own working day, he said it would “hell for leather” and admitted he had also thought about leaving.

"Everybody does. I’m in receipt of my NHS pension for the last three years, but I still love my job...(my) relationship with the patients in the Bogside in Derry and I don’t want to leave them.

"As long as they’ll put up with me I’ll stay on for the next while.”

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