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GPs threaten half-day closures due to work pressures

Chairman of the BMA's GP committee Tom Black has warned that GP practices could close for half-days to tackle mounting workloads
Seanín Graham

GP PRACTICES in Northern Ireland may introduce half day closure of practices to tackle "spiralling workloads" and the "crisis" facing primary care.

The British Medical Association (BMA), the biggest doctors' union in Northern Ireland, has also warned that increasing numbers of patients will be triaged by telephone before getting GP appointments while doctors could close their lists to new patients joining.

The measures are part of a whole series of plans agreed by union members who say the current service is in crisis, with many practices on the brink of collapse due to staff shortages, retirements and increased demand.

The move comes a day after The Irish News reported that cash bonuses of £2,000 are being offered to Belfast GPs to take up out-of-hours work.

BMA chiefs say practice doctors want to slash administration and will no longer refer patients back to hospitals for missed appointments or deal with insurance forms.

They have said that they may also introduce half day closing of practices.

And they warned that some surgeries with fewer GP staff are already undertaking half-day closures as this can "improve efficiency and effectiveness".

Dr Tom Black, chair of BMA's GP said: "In the absence of a rescue plan for general practice, and to help address the ongoing crisis and as a response to funding cuts, we have had to take steps to withdraw some services, so that we can maintain our core service seeing patients.

"As a result, we are firstly advising GPs to cut back on unnecessary paperwork. This will include not dealing with patients who do not attend a hospital outpatient appointment, instead we will ask them to speak to the hospital directly to make a new appointment.

"We will also be advising patients that the hospital is responsible for notifying them of the results of any tests, investigations or treatment they had in hospital. We will no longer continue to organise patient transport for routine outpatient appointments."

Prescriptions for medications to treat minor illnesss such as cough bottles, mouth washes, shampoos and sun cream will also be withdrawn to free up more time as well as phone lines to GP surgeries.

The union say they urgently require more training and recruitment of new GP doctors and increased investment to guarantee a "safe, sustainable service".

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