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GPs offered £2k bonus to work 'out-of-hours'

GP out-of-hours services in Belfast have hit by rota shortages
Seanín Graham

CASH bonuses of £2,000 are being used to entice Belfast GPs to work shifts in the city's overstretched out-of-hours service.

Correspondence seen by the Irish News reveals how the north's Health and Social Care Board is offering a £1k top-up for working 25 hours over a three-month period - a quarter of which will be training - in addition to out-of-hours payments.

A further cash incentive will be paid after six months.

The development comes as consultants in Belfast are being offered at least £1,500 for a night's work to provide on-call cover for a crisis-hit A&E department in Newry.

As reported in yesterday's Irish News, the senior A&E medics would be based at the Canal Court hotel in the city and "in theory may not have to work at all" at Daisy Hill hospital but still receive pay.

GPs eligible for the new out-of-hours bonuses include those who have never worked in the specialist night service or GPs who left the work over a year ago, according to the Board letter which has been sent to every practice in Belfast.

Doctors can join the "local enhanced service" scheme for three to six months and will also be provided with "induction and taster" sessions.

There is a shortage of GPs across the north with increasing numbers retiring and soaring demand for services. There are currently 189 GPs working across the city after-hours, with four leaving in the past year.

While difficulties have been highlighted in rural out-of-hours practices - particularly in the Newry and Armagh areas - there has been increasing pressures in cities.

Rocketing insurance cover for "high-risk" out-of-hours work is linked to the drop in uptake, with one family doctor quoted £33,000 to insure herself to work at night.

Dr Michael McKenna, a GP based in west Belfast who provided night cover more than five years ago, said the extra £2k being offered as an enticement "may not be enough" for some medics due to the hike in "indemnity" protection.

A GP must insure themselves while a hospital doctor is insured by the NHS, which many family doctors say acts as a "real disincentive" for evening work.

"You are more likely to have a complaint against you if you work at night as it carries a higher risk of you missing things due to lack of continuity," Dr McKenna said.

"The reality is that there aren't enough GPs to cover day shifts with many working from 8am to 8pm so you certainly don't have enough for night work.

"I'm aware there are rota gaps for the out-of-hours work in Belfast and it became almost critical last winter. Due to the big increase in indemnity protection my concern is that the £1,000 bonus just isn't enough."



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