Northern Ireland GPC (NIGPC) plans to meet all political parties in the wake of last week’s general election, as fresh talks to restore the power-sharing executive opened on Monday.
Downing Street said over the weekend that the Conservatives had reached an agreement in principle with the far-right unionist party that it will support the government in crucial confidence and supply votes in the House of Commons. Both parties later said talks were ongoing. The DUP is expected to demand concessions including more financial support for Northern Ireland, and assurances on the border with the Republic of Ireland.
NIGPC chair Dr Tom Black said he would ‘expect [the DUP] to look for funding for public services here’. NIGPC would be meeting with all parties, he added, and with the permanent secretary at the Northern Ireland health department at the end of June to press for the implementation of a GP rescue deal agreed by the executive in December before it collapsed.
NIGPC is in the process of collecting undated resignations from practices in response to the ongoing workload, workforce and funding crisis which has seen a slew of practice closures. GP leaders are set to unveil a ‘plan B’ proposal for services outside the NHS which is likely to involve appointment charges for patients modeled on the system over the border. They are calling for investment equivalent to the GP Forward View in England which will increase funding per patient to more than £200, while in Northern Ireland practices receive around half that.
The last Stormont executive agreed the reform package in principle, but no funding was available because of a budget stalemate. The subsequent political crisis and collapse of the government left GPs in limbo as practices continue to face collapse.
All-party talks brokered by the UK and Irish governments aimed at restarting the devolved executive are due to begin today but the chances of agreement have been thrown into doubt by the Conservatives’ alliance talks with the DUP. Stormont talks had been delayed by the UK election. If no agreement is reached by the end of June direct rule from Westminster could be restored.
GP leaders have said that general practice in parts of Northern Ireland is 'one practice closure from collapse'. Speaking at last month's UK LMC conference in Edinburgh, Dr Black said GPs were determined to protect thier service 'at all costs' even if it meant leaving the NHS.