Mass GP resignation in Northern Ireland looms as government nears collapse

Mass resignation by GPs across Northern Ireland is 'inevitable' if the likely collapse of the government on Monday ends hopes of a rescue package of funding for general practice, GP leaders have warned.

Dr Tom Black: Northern Ireland GPC chair (Photo: JH Lancy)
Dr Tom Black: Northern Ireland GPC chair (Photo: JH Lancy)

GPonline reported this month that Northern Ireland GPC chair Dr Tom Black had said the only way to save general practice under current circumstances was to quit the NHS.

Fears that the country could face a fresh general election after the resignation last week of Sinn Féin's Martin McGuiness as deputy first minister have left GPs fearing there is now no chance of agreeing a bailout for general practice.

Some 97% of GPs in Northern Ireland polled by the BMA have said they are prepared to take part in a mass resignation, and GP leaders will meet on 25 January to discuss the next steps towards taking this last-ditch measure.

Dr Black said: 'Recent weeks have clearly shown that general practice here is on the edge of a full-blown crisis. The public has given its support for full investment in general practice and that is needed immediately.'

GP workforce

In December, Northern Ireland health minister Michelle O'Neill made a series of recommendations for general practice that were welcomed by GP leaders. Steps set out included plans to increase the number of GPs working in Northern Ireland, increasing the focus on general practice in medical training, increasing access to other healthcare staff and investment in technology and premises.

But Dr Black has now warned: 'Continued uncertainty over the budget for Northern Ireland means that plans we had worked hard to agree with the department of health to address the issues and put general practice back on an even keel cannot now be implemented. The minister made it clear in her statement in December there was now a clear direction of travel that, if followed, would result in stability for primary care services.

'GPs across Northern Ireland have called for immediate investment to prevent the collapse of general practice here, and have taken the step of considering resigning from the health service to ensure this does not happen. If a rescue plan isn’t funded it means the proposed GP resignations are now inevitable.

'A contingency plan is now urgently needed to address what should be done in the event of an election and further delays to a budget being agreed.'

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