GPs fear service 'collapse' in Northern Ireland as trainees dry up

General practice faces 'collapse' in Northern Ireland as just 33 new GPs were trained in 2014, GP leaders have warned.

Dr Tom Black: warning over future of general practice (Photo: Pete Hill)
Dr Tom Black: warning over future of general practice (Photo: Pete Hill)

The annual Northern Ireland LMCs conference on 22 March called on the devolved government to develop an action plan to address the crisis in the service.

GPC chairman Dr Tom Black said GPs felt things ‘cannot get any worse’.

‘There was real concern that practice collapse and out-of-hours collapse will be the next thing around the corner,' he said.

GP services underfunded

GPC research suggests general practice in Northern Ireland is underfunded by £33m compared with the rest of the UK.

However Dr Black said new funding would not happen because of the government spending crisis. ‘We know they've got no money and they'll only fix things that are already broken,' he said. ‘There doesn't seem to be any motivation to prevent crises.’

Dr Black warned that out-of-hours services were the ‘canary in the mine’ of general practice. More than half of out-of-hours shifts in the the west and south of Northern Ireland are now understaffed, centres have been closed, while doctors in the east are starting shifts to find 100 patients waiting, said Dr Black.

The service, he said, was ‘running on the goodwill of senior GPs working extraordinary hours’. He added: ‘I don't think that is going to last.’

GP practices face closure

Meanwhile, the Northern Ireland GPC fears there could be up to seven practice closures this year.

LMCs passed a conference motion calling on the health department and the health and social care board (HSCB) to recognise the ‘enormity’ of the workforce crisis and increase the numbers entering training.

Of 65 trainees due to complete in 2014, just 33 did so, said Dr Black.

He said: ‘We intend to work with the department, HSCB, the Northern Ireland Medical and Dental Training Agency and the School of Medicine to develop a campaign to attract medical students and junior doctors into general practice. We will also continue to lobby for increased funding to ensure the survival of GP services in Northern Ireland.’

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