Northern Ireland should consider alternative GP contract

Northern Ireland should consider drawing up its own GP contract after recent delays in getting the UK-wide deal signed off by ministers, LMCs have warned.

Dr Brian Dunn: 'Northern Ireland will not be able to run a separate GP contract'
Dr Brian Dunn: 'Northern Ireland will not be able to run a separate GP contract'

Northern Ireland's health minister took more than a week longer than the other UK governments to sign off the deal last month, raising fears the UK contract would be split up.

GPs at the Northern Ireland LMCs conference in Enniskillen voted for GPC Northern Ireland to look at other contract options in case practices were forced to 'withdraw en masse from GMS provision'.

Eastern LMC member Dr Alan Stout said the recent delays highlighted the advantages of having other contract options.

'It's not a bad message to show that there are alternatives and that we are prepared to change,' he said.

'To have some sort of alternative would act in our favour if that situation of delayed sign-off was to arise again.'

But delegates agreed that general practice was best served by a four-country deal.

Dr Brian Patterson, a member of Northern LMC, said a four-country contract created a 'level playing field' for GPs across the UK and maintained high standards.

Northern Ireland GPC chairman Dr Brian Dunn also said Northern Ireland would not be able to run a separate GP contract. 'Our department can barely make the local changes to a UK contract, never mind running a Northern Ireland contract,' he said.

But Dr Dunn said if the reforms in England meant the UK contract had to change, Northern Ireland, Scotland and Wales could have a separate 'Celtic contract'.

'The three Celtic departments could run a contract. Or you could have a core UK contract with bolt-ons,' he said. 'But our first preference is to maintain the four-country contract.'

Northern Ireland's health department has said the delay in agreeing the UK deal was caused by delays in securing funding. But Dr Dunn said the delay was a 'political decision'. He said: 'It has been a very difficult year - and made especially so by the minister for health and his antics.

'The first thing we need to do for next year is ensure that anything that has been negotiated by our department will be accepted by the minister.'

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