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Fall in number of GP practices in Northern Ireland

There were 333 GP practices active as of March 31 this year compared to 350 in 2014
Brendan Hughes

THE number of GP practices in Northern Ireland has fallen by almost five per cent in recent years but GP numbers have increased, new figures show.

There were 333 GP practices active as of March 31 compared to 350 in 2014, while GPs excluding locums increased by 12 per cent to 1,323 over the same period.

Health campaigners cited practice mergers for the reduction in premises, but said the increase in GPs is "simply a headcount" with many now choosing to work part-time.

Of the GPs, 55 per cent were female and 45 per cent male – a shift from 2014 when 46 per cent were female and 54 per cent male.

Meanwhile, community pharmacy numbers in Northern Ireland have increased, according to the Stormont health department figures published yesterday.

There were 532 as of March this year – a seven per cent increase compared to 2008/09.

Prescriptions dispensed during the year surpassed 41.7 million items at an ingredient cost before discount of around £436 million – a seven per cent increase on items and and six per cent rise in costs since 2013/14.

Items related to the central nervous system accounted for 24 per cent of the total ingredient cost in the past year.

Dr Alan Stout, chair of the British Medical Association's Northern Ireland GPs committee, said they have been warning about a reduction in practices for many years.

"One of the main factors for this fall is practice mergers, which has led to an increase in average number of registered patients in each practice," he said.

"The increase in the number of GPs for the same period is simply a headcount. The reality is that a significant number of newly-qualified GPs are choosing to work less than full time, which is why we still need more GPs to cover the outstanding hours."

He added: "Recent investment in general practice has been welcome however we still do not have enough GPs to deal with growing patient numbers, particularly in rural areas."

Around two-thirds of the north's population (64 per cent) are registered with a health service dentist, which is relatively unchanged over the last five years.

Health service dental treatments on children aged 15 and under fell over the period. Fillings reduced by about a fifth (22 per cent), while extractions and orthodontic activity dropped by 11 per cent and 12 per cent respectively.

Ophthalmic practitioner numbers have increased from 643 in 2013 to 781 by March this year.

Just under 464,500 sight tests were provided to patients during 2017/18, with almost two in every three (65 per cent) provided to children aged under 16 or people aged over 65.

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