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57 under threat GPs write to health and social care board

Health minister Michelle O'Neill has already unveiled sweeping changes to the healthcare system. Photo by Kelvin Boyes, Press Eye
Andrew Madden

FIFTY-seven GP practices have written directly to the health and social care board to raise concerns over staffing levels and the future sustainability of their surgeries.

Two practices, Coagh Medical Centre in Co Tyrone and Dr Crawford and Partners at Bangor Health Centre, have went so far as to personally contact the health minister Michelle O’Neill to voice their concerns.

The news came to light in response to an assembly questions raised by SDLP MLAs Daniel McCrossan and Richie McPhilips.

Following October's Bengoa Report into health and social care in Northern Ireland, the health minister announced a new 10-year-plan aimed at transforming the troubled system.

The report had highlighted the strain GP’s surgeries were under, and made several radical proposals for change.

According to the 10-year-plan, annual GP recruitment will be increased to 111, with an extra 12 and 14 in the following years.

It also aimed to have a named district nurse, health visitor and social worker in every GP practice in the north by spring 2017.

A target of 54 pharmacists to be in place in GP practices was set for this month, with a complete roll-out being completed by March 2021.

Last month, The Irish News revealed that spending on locum doctors had doubled in the last five years, from £23.2 million to £46.1m.

SDLP MLA Richie Phillips said immediate action is required to tackle the issue.

"The simple fact is that GP’s are facing crisis conditions across the north," he said.

"We have an ageing GP workforce with many retiring never to be replaced resulting in resources being spread far too thinly, especially in rural areas.

"I know of that first-hand in my own constituency. This could have been averted had previous Health ministers taken affirmative action to recruit more GP’s in knowing many would be retiring.

"The failure to train more and replace retiring GP’s is not only putting extreme pressures on workforce but it is also impacting on patient care – patients will have to wait longer for routine appointments and assessments while out-of-hours services have been obliterated."

On March 23, a GP-led working group published a report on how to address the pressures facing GP-led primary care services to ensure that they are able to meet the challenge of rising demand now and into the future. Many of the recommendations mirrored those in the Bengoa report which followed.

Health minister Michelle O'Neill responded to the working group's report, agreeing that change was required.

"I have considered the report and recommendations of the working group set up to review GP-led care services here," she said.

"The report is clear - we need to take action now to address the challenges facing the service and I am pleased to accept its recommendations as signalling the direction of travel needed to ensure that everyone here continues to have access to high quality, sustainable GP-led services.

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