£15m investment into Northern Ireland GP services

The Northern Ireland government has announced a £15m investment into general practice, funding out-of- hours services and recruitment.

Dr Black: '£33m of recurrent funding is required just to bring us up to the UK average.'
Dr Black: '£33m of recurrent funding is required just to bring us up to the UK average.'

GP leaders have welcomed the announcement but say that more than double that amount is needed to bring Northern Ireland in line with other UK countries.

The funding includes:

  • Up to £3.1m for out-of-hours GP services
  • Up to £1.2m to help GPs meet demand for blood tests and other diagnostic work in the community delivered through GP federations
  • Up to £300,000 to recruit and retain GPs
  • Up to £10m for GP practices to borrow to upgrade and expand their premises and £350,000 to meet the ongoing costs of these new premises

Northern Ireland’s health minister Jim Wells said: ‘This package of investment will help to address some of the current difficulties and plan for future challenges in general practice.’

Out-of-hours boost

Demand for out-of-hours GP services has increased by 18% in the last five years, according to Northern Ireland’s Department of Health, Social Services and Public Safety.

Mr Wells said: ‘I have listened to the concerns regarding the current out-of-hours service and today’s financial package includes a significant investment of up to £3.1million to address the increased demand.

‘This will help ensure that there is an alternative to our stretched emergency departments for those who cannot wait to see their own GP.’

Mr Wells also said that bureaucracy would be cut, saying: ‘GPs will now have 15 fewer government indicators to meet, meaning more time to spend with patients and less time filling in forms.’

Lagging behind

Dr Tom Black, chaimanr of the Northern Ireland GPC, welcomed the announcement, but said Northern Ireland was still falling behind the rest of the UK.

‘Even with this investment, funding for general practice in Northern Ireland will continue to lag behind that of the rest of the UK,’ he said.

‘We estimate that £33m of recurrent funding is required just to bring us up to the UK average.'

‘We also need a fundamental shift in how primary care manages its workload. The shift of work out of hospitals into primary care which has been happening under Transforming Your Care needs to be planned, agreed and properly resourced,’ he said.

‘However, it is only through proper and recurrent funding of general practice services and innovative new models of care such as GP federations that we will begin to see an improvement in the issues GPs face on a daily basis.’

First step

RCGP's Northern Ireland chairman Dr John O’Kelly said: ‘This promise of new funding shows the government has acknowledged the severity of our concerns.’

Dr O’Kelly said that investment into recruiting and retaining GPs was particularly welcome because of a low GP to patient ratio and ageing GP population.

‘We believe we need up to 500 more GPs in Northern Ireland and 11% of the NHS budget by 2020,’ he said.

‘Today’s announcement is a welcome first step in addressing the GP workforce crisis, as well as the underinvestment in general practice.’

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