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North is ‘sleep-walking' towards primary care crisis, says BMA

Around 74 per cent of general practices in the north are "struggling", according to the British Medical Association (BMA). Picture by Anthony Devlin, Press Association

THE Northern Ireland Executive is "sleep-walking" towards a crisis in primary care, doctors have warned.

Almost three quarters of general practices in the north say they are "struggling", according to the British Medical Association (BMA).

It also claims nearly 10 per cent are "barely coping" due to escalating problems such as growing patient list sizes, serious staffing gaps, growing paperwork and bureaucracy.

The lobby organisation for the profession in Northern Ireland is urging the public to sign a petition calling on Stormont ministers to take action.

The petition urges health minister Michelle O'Neill to invest a tenth of the healthcare budget on a "safe and sustainable GP service", train more GPs and reduce paperwork and improve IT systems.

Dr Tom Black from the BMA said: "General practice is one of the key bedrocks of every community in Northern Ireland and is the first point of contact for 90 per cent of health and social care-related needs.

"Yet the Northern Ireland government is sleep-walking towards a crisis in primary care. The majority of rural practices in Northern Ireland are at serious risk of closure due to workforce and workload issues.

"The situation is particularly bad for smaller, single-handed and rural practices that have fewer GPs working in them and who are struggling to fill vacancies.

"We're calling on the public to show their support for our call for the government to urgently address the problems faced by general practice by signing our petition."

The petition will be available to sign in GP surgeries across the north until September 2 and will then be presented to the assembly.

Meanwhile, members of the Royal College of General Practioners in Northern Ireland (RCGPNI) are to meet Ms O'Neill on Wednesday.

They will present a letter signed by 168 family doctors calling for "urgent action to tackle the major challenges in general practice".

Dr John O’Kelly from the RCGPNI said the group was calling for Ms O'Neill to implement recommendations made by a GP-led working group report to "meet the pressing needs of the profession and to ensure patients receive the best possible health care within their local community".

"We have outlined 10 initial key actions that we believe would begin to address these issues, but we need to see a commitment to delivering on these as a matter of urgency," he said.

He added: "Pressure on general practice is mounting. We need to see a shift of resources towards our profession in order to ensure that our patients get the quality of care and service provision that they deserve".

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