Editor's Viewpoint: Minister could help ease GP difficulties
GPs are known as the gateway to the health service. They are the doctors most often seen first by people worried about their health. As such, they have to be highly skilled in diagnosis, able to differentiate between various diseases which may have a number of common symptoms, but very different outcomes if not recognised.
That part of a GP's work is taxing enough, but they also have to fit in house calls, issuing prescriptions, following up blood tests and hospital appointments, and monitoring the health of those on their very lengthy patient lists.
As a result, general practice has now become an unpopular choice among those going through medical school. So unpopular in fact that one Northern Ireland practice spent more than £3,000 advertising for a partner or salaried GP and did not receive even one expression of interest, never mind an application to join.
Some of the comments made about general practice are astonishing, with it being described as 'a hell hole' and many doctors fearing that they will one day face a charge of manslaughter for missing a symptom or making a wrong diagnosis.
It is intolerable that doctors, whose primary duty is to care for patients to the best of their ability, should now live in constant fear of not only losing their job, but also potentially their liberty.
And they are having to make those vital diagnoses on the basis of a short interview and examination. With little of the technology available in hospitals, they have to determine who is suffering from a self-limiting illness and who needs an urgent specialist appointment.
Given the shortage of GPs, the pressure on general practice is bound to increase constantly. Red flags have been raised and more funds have been found to build up practices with other health professionals, such as pharmacists on site, but the expectation remains among patients that they must see a doctor for every ill, real or imagined, and for every pill or potion, even if the same can be bought over the counter.
But what is really needed is a health minister in post at Stormont to direct the reform of the health service and iron out the problems in general practice. Instead, Sinn Fein and the DUP have abdicated their leadership responsibility to the detriment of patients and their doctors. They should return to government or else decisions should be made from London via direct rule.