GPs in Northern Ireland 'on the edge of a full-blown crisis'

Three quarters of GP practices in Northern Ireland are struggling to cope and one in 10 say they are 'barely coping' with soaring workload, according to BMA research.

Northern Ireland GPC chairman Dr Tom Black
Northern Ireland GPC chairman Dr Tom Black

The findings make clear that primary care in Northern Ireland is 'on the edge of a full-blown crisis', according to Northern Ireland GPC (NIGPC) chairman Dr Tom Black.

Practices reported problems filling vacancies, growing list sizes and increasing reliance on locum staff, reflecting problems facing practices across the UK.

GPonline revealed survey findings last month suggesting that locums carry out a fifth of the workload at one in seven practices in the UK, and that a quarter of vacant GP posts had been unfilled for more than a year.

GP workload

Patients across Northern Ireland will be asked to sign a petition in support of general practice. GP leaders are demanding urgent investment to support the profession, and a long-term plan to raise funding to a minimum of 10% of the Northern Ireland NHS budget.

The NIGPC has also set out a list of demands it believes are vital to rescue general practice:

  • A stabilisation fund to help practices at serious risk.
  • A GP taskforce to support at-risk practices.
  • A 'national standard' for patient consultations per day.
  • A review of bureaucracy facing GPs.
  • More GP training places
  • Funding for an expanded primary care team to include mental health practitioners, health visitors, advanced nurse practitioners, physiotherapists and physician associates.
  • Investment in out-of-hours primary care.

Dr Black said: 'We knew the situation was bad, but the research showed clearly that primary care here is on the edge of a full blown crisis.

GP vacancies

'GPs all across Northern Ireland reported problems, but the situation was particularly bad for smaller, single handed and rural practices that have fewer GPs working in them and who are struggling to fill vacancies.

'We were also concerned at the number of respondents talking about retirement - 50% said they expected retirements in their practice in the next two to five years and this was particularly marked in practices that were already struggling. Those GPs just can’t take the stress any longer.

'We also had GPs reporting that they were struggling to take annual leave and 76% of respondents saying their work-life balance was being adversely affected by their job.'

Photo: Pete Hill

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