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Editorial: GP crisis set to get worse

Our healthcare system is struggling in a number of areas but the situation is becoming particularly acute in primary care - the front line service provided by GPs.

The GP surgery is the first port of call for any patient. It is an integral and vital part of the health service, relied on by all of us who are registered with a practice that provides a vast range of medical care.

However, this service is under strain like never before, facing serious staffing and workload pressures that pre-date the pandemic but which have worsened over the past two years.

It is six years since BMA spokesman Dr Tom Black warned that the majority of rural practices in Northern Ireland are at serious risk of closure.

In the interim, we have seen a number of practices close but the problem of sustaining GP services has now gone well beyond rural areas and is affecting large towns and cities.

Earlier this month, Priory Surgery in Holywood, which incorporates Springhill Surgery in Bangor, announced it would be handing back its contract to health authorities early next year while Grove Medical Practice in north Belfast is expected to hand back its contract later this year.

Dr Black recently warned that 22 practices across the north are on the brink of handing back their contracts.

The Irish News has learned that eight practices in Belfast have applied to close their lists to new patients in the last 12 months.

Of the eight, six applications were refused while two surgeries were allowed to close their lists for two months.

If more practices close their lists then that is a serious issue for patients whose surgery is closing and who need to register with another doctor.

While the health authorities have introduced a number of initiatives aimed at addressing the shortage of GPs, the concern is that a dire situation could deteriorate further.

 

Around 30 per cent of the north's GPs are over 55, with many set to retire in the next few years, but the number of new recruits being trained is not keeping pace with demand.

We all know that reform of the health service is urgently needed but the lack of a Stormont executive and a long term budget is not helping what is fast becoming a major crisis.

 

 

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