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GP reforms a welcome step forward

The report by Professor Rafael Bengoa on transforming the health system in Northern Ireland contained a number of significant proposals aimed at improving the delivery of services.

His panel's recommendations are far-reaching but also essential if we are to tackle unacceptable waiting times for treatment that would not be tolerated in other parts of the NHS.

Something has to be done to bring about the sort of changes necessary to meet the needs of an ageing population.

The Bengoa report proposed the radical transformation of primary care, which is delivered by GP practices that largely act independently with some input from other disciplines.

The future model is based on multi-disciplinary teams of specialised health and social care staff embedded around the GP practice, the idea being that more can be done for patients without them having to be admitted to hospital.

This week the Department of Health announced the first stage of what it called a 'new era' in GP care.

GP federation areas in Co Down and the north west will see practice-based physiotherapists, mental health specialists and social workers working alongside doctors and nurses. There will also be additional nursing specialist jobs such as health visitors and district nurses.

The aim is to see issues resolved more quickly, reducing the need to referrals and appointments elsewhere.

Recruitment is due to begin for around 200 posts that will be created in the two areas with a wider roll-out at a later stage.

The GP surgery is usually the first port of call for patients and it makes sense to offer specialised care which could provide a speedier service and ease pressure on our beleaguered hospitals.

In particular, the presence of mental health professionals will be a welcome addition given the difficulties many patients face in accessing support.

Although it will take some months for these new services to become available, the changes will be seen as a fresh approach and a positive development.

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