Leading article

Role of the GP crucial in our health service

In our health service, the role of primary care is absolutely crucial.

The first port of call for any ill person is usually their GP, who will assess their needs, prescribe treatment and follow up care or refer them for a specialist appointment.

It is the local surgery which provides important preventive care and advice, reviews patients with chronic medical conditions and plays a key role in delivering vaccination programmes to everyone from the newborn baby to an elderly person with asthma.

However, as many patients can testify, it can often be difficult to get an appointment within a short time while doctors are regularly raising concerns over their growing workloads.

They point out that primary care is under enormous strain, with increasing demand from an ageing population at a time when hospital waiting lists are growing at an alarming rate.

There is also a shortage of GPs and with almost a quarter of family doctors aged 55 or over, it is a situation which will only get worse unless action is taken.

The Royal College of General Practitioners Northern Ireland has now produced a detailed plan which it says offers solutions to what they describe as ``the growing crisis facing general practice.''

Their report calls on the government to increase the number of GPs being trained in Northern Ireland from 65 to 111, saying this will enable doctors to cope with rising demand and allow more time to be spent with patients.

Developing the role of key staff is another proposal and the Royal College envisages the health centre of the future will not only have GPs and practice nurses but also pharmacists, physiotherapists and counsellors.

There are other suggestions with regard to budgets and recruitment and it is incumbent on government to carefully weigh these proposals and discuss how we maintain a high standard of primary care in Northern Ireland.

Unfortunately, there is currently no health minister in post to consider and respond to this issue and that is something that needs to be resolved as a matter of urgency.

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