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Doctors offered £1,000 a day to work over Twelfth

The GP sector across Northern Ireland is tackling a workforce crisis with several rural practices forced to close
Seanín Graham

DOCTORS have been offered the highest ever pay rates to work out-of-hours over the Twelfth holidays due to a chronic shortage of GPs - with the potential to earn £1,000 for a shift.

The Irish News has learned the Belfast health trust has increased the bank holiday hourly rate to £126.94 as an enticement to fill rotas between July 11 and 13 this year, effectively meaning GPs will be on double time.

The move follows other incentives to attract staff, including a £2,000 bonus to rejoin the overstretched out-of-hours services.

Trust chiefs contacted GPs on their books last week informing them of the July increase and said if they can do "only one or two hours" they will "amend the rota to suit".

One family doctor last night said if day-time conditions were improved there would be less pressure to get staff at night.

The GP sector across Northern Ireland is currently in the grip of a major workforce crisis due to increasing retirements and soaring demands with several rural practices closing in recent months.

Almost 190 GPs are on the Belfast trust rota to work across the city after-hours - though some of these doctors have unofficially opted out and have not worked the 'red-eye' 12am to 8am shift in over five years.

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.

The latest financial enticement also follows attempts to attract top A&E consultants to work in a crisis-hit Co Down casualty unit, with £1,500 pay being offered to work on-call from a Newry hotel for the night in a bid to staff Daisy Hill hospital.

Dr Michael McKenna, a Belfast GP who previously did night work, said he didn't believe the extra pay will get additional staff for July.

The average rate for out-of-hours GP work is around £66 per hour while doctors normally earn up to £100 per hour during busy holiday periods.

"Many GPs will have already booked time off in July and will not be willing to work, even though this rate is probably the highest. At Christmas, which is the busiest period, it's around £100 per hour," Dr McKenna said.

"What will help solve the shortage is an increase in the salaried out-of-hours work as opposed to bonus schemes and enhanced holiday rates. You would get an increase in the number of people willing to do the sessions.

"The problem lies with indemnity and doctors having to insure themselves 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,

"But I think if the day time GP problems were solved then you would get a lot more staff at night."

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