New practice crisis as Northern Ireland GPs say mass resignation 'inevitable'

Another practice faces possible collapse in Northern Ireland as GP leaders warn mass resignation from the NHS has become 'inevitable'.

Health minister Michelle O’Neill expressed concern on Monday that a GP who had been confirmed to take over the threatened Bannview Medical Practice in Portadown, County Armagh, had withdrawn from the contract. The 5,000-patient practice is being run temporarily by the Health and Social Care Board after its last GP resigned.

The collapse of the practice was averted earlier this month the when a new GP agreed to take on the contract. But that GP has now withdrawn.

GPC chair Dr Tom Black said the news was ‘extremely concerning’.

GP crisis

‘As we have said before, the situation in Bannview is happening all over Northern Ireland and will get worse unless immediate action is taken. Recent weeks have clearly shown that general practice here is on the edge of a full-blown crisis.’

Dr Black said that without an urgent rescue plan for the service the collapse of the government meant the looming mass resignation of GPs from NHS contracts was ‘inevitable’.

In December the BMA announced that 97% of GPs in Northern Ireland balloted in a series of crisis meetings supported the plan for a mass contract resignation. Just before Christmas the Sinn Fein health minister in the power-sharing executive Michelle O’Neill agreed a plan of action proposed by GPs which includes increasing training places and developing multidisciplinary teams.

But a funding agreement looks increasingly unlikely after the government collapsed yesterday in the wake of the political fallout from the renewable heat scandal.

GP workload

Northern Ireland now faces a general election on 2 March and, if there is no agreement to form a new executive, a possible further election of the return of direct rule from Westminster.

Dr Black said: ‘GPs across the country have called for immediate investment to prevent the collapse of general practice and have taken the step of considering resigning from the health service to ensure this does not happen. If a rescue plan to save general practice isn’t funded by the Department of Health  it means the proposed GP resignations are now inevitable.   A contingency plan is now urgently needed to address what should done in the event of an election and further delays to a budget being agreed.’

Ms O’Neill said: ‘The [Health and Social Care Board] will continue to manage the practice in the interim period until a new contractor is appointed. No decision has been made to close the practice and the HSCB will be writing to all patients to advise them of the current arrangements.’

‘I am very aware of the challenges facing general practice and I have committed to invest in primary care. The real progress that is being made through increasing GP training places to 111, the ongoing rollout of AskMyGP - the online and phone triage system, and having over 100 practice-based pharmacists in place within general practice shortly, all helps to ease GP workload pressures and attract more doctors into general practice.’

Photo: iStock

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