GPs take step towards charging patients privately after NHS resignations vote
GPs in Northern Ireland have taken another step towards charging patients privately after they voted to begin gathering names for NHS resignations.
The collapse of Stormont means an investment plan cannot go ahead.
Pressure on the workforce has already resulted in the closure of many rural surgeries in Northern Ireland.
Dr Tom Black, from the BMA, said: "General practice is on the brink in Northern Ireland and we feel we have no alternative to proceed with collecting undated resignations from our members.
"Continued inaction to save general practice has forced us into this situation.
"The work of the Northern Ireland government may have stalled, but the need to provide safe and efficient healthcare to patients has not stalled.
"General practice is being delivered under unsustainable conditions that we can no longer tolerate."
A deal was agreed with the health authorities before Christmas but is threatened by the political uncertainty.
It is thought hundreds of community doctors could resign.
The step could mean the shuttering of more surgeries or doctors who have left the NHS charging patients for appointments.
The ageing population with more chronic conditions and complex health needs has challenged the system.
Dr Black said recent weeks have clearly shown that general practice is on the edge of a full-blown crisis.
A doctor's practice in Portadown, Co Armagh, was on the verge of closure after the last GP resigned but a new contractor was found.
Before the current crisis at Stormont, health minister Michelle O'Neill said the number of GP training places was planned to increase to 111 by 2018/19, a year ahead of a working group's recommendation.
Over 100 practice-based pharmacists will also soon be in place in general practice.