In a speech that won a prolonged standing ovation from GPs at the LMC conference 2017 on Friday, GPC Northern Ireland chair Dr Tom Black said that LMCs could not stand by and watch the destruction of GP services by neglect.
He reiterated warnings made in March at the Northern Ireland LMC conference that the BMA in Northern Ireland expected to lose '5% to 10% of GP practices this year'. 'We have lost a quarter of practices in Fermanagh already this year, and it's only May,' he said.
GP leaders in Northern Ireland are continuing to collect undated contract resignations from practices across the country. A 'steady flow' of resignation letters is continuing to pour in, as GPC Northern Ireland prepares to trigger a mass resignation from the NHS once 60% of practices have declared themselves willing to take part.
GP practice closures
General practice in Northern Ireland was facing an 'existential crisis', Dr Black told the conference. GPs did not want to quit the NHS and wanted to continue to deliver services free at the point of need.
GP leaders in Northern Ireland have drawn up a so-called ‘Plan B’ for general practice to operate outside the NHS. Dr Black said this plan - likely to mirror arrangements over the border in the Republic of Ireland, where patients are charged up to €60 per consultation - would be circulated to practices in the summer.
'We’ve had a difficult year in Northern Ireland,' he told the conference. He pointed out that GPC Wales chair Dr Charlotte Jones - speaking before him - had talked about 'government' and 'investment' - pointing out that neither of these words had been used in Northern Ireland for some time.
The last Stormont administration agreed a reform package in principle, but no funding was available because of a budget stalemate. The subsequent political crisis and collapse of the government has left GPs in limbo as practices continue to face collapse.
GPonline reported earlier this year from the Northern Ireland LMC conference that GP leaders feared many practices would not survive long enough to take part in a mass resignation.