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Editor's Viewpoint

Shortage of GPs a cause for concern

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When Robin Swann took the post of Minister of Health he must have realised that it was something of a poisoned chalice, but even he could not have imagined how toxic it really is

When Robin Swann took the post of Minister of Health he must have realised that it was something of a poisoned chalice, but even he could not have imagined how toxic it really is

When Robin Swann took the post of Minister of Health he must have realised that it was something of a poisoned chalice, but even he could not have imagined how toxic it really is

When Robin Swann took the post of Minister of Health he must have realised that it was something of a poisoned chalice, but even he could not have imagined how toxic it really is.

Every day, it seems, a new crisis emerges, demanding urgent action but, like many of his Executive colleagues, without the funding to solve the problem. Mr Swann won many friends with his swift action to agree to pay parity for health workers but the feelgood factor in health can dissipate very swiftly.

The latest problem to land on his in-tray is revealed exclusively in this newspaper today with reports that up to 7,000 patients in east and north Belfast face seeing their GP practices close because they are unable to attract new family doctors.

Up until now this has been a problem confined to rural areas - especially Fermanagh - with 23 practices closing between 2014 and 2019. Retirement of long serving GPs and a shortage of replacements has created a vicious circle which has left many patients having to travel many miles to see a doctor.

Now the problem has emerged in Belfast which deepens the crisis given the large number of patients involved.

GPs perform a vital service in the NHS. They are often referred to as the gatekeepers of the NHS, deciding which patients need to be referred on to specialists and which will essentially heal themselves.

But like every other sector of the health service they are facing an increased demand on their services due to an ageing population with more complex needs leading to increased stress. Patients are having to wait longer and longer for appointments and lengthy hospital waiting lists mean GPs are having to manage increasing numbers of patients whose condition continues to deteriorate until they enter hospital.

It is obvious that the state of the NHS is now so serious that sticking plaster remedies are no longer enough. Mr Swann needs to speed up the transformation of the service outlined in the Bengoa Report. While that will obviously cost money much can be achieved by a reconfiguration of services and facilities.

Inevitably that will include unpopular decisions but as problem piles on top of problem, the public acceptance of closures or concentration of services may be more forthcoming. A more streamlined and efficient NHS may prove more attractive to GPs.

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