Northern Ireland GPs demand funding to tackle soaring demand

GPs in Northern Ireland have called for urgent investment to ease 'unprecedented' pressure on primary care, warning the service faces a looming crisis.

Dr Arnie McDowell: general practice under pressure (Photo: JH Lancy)

One leading GP warned the ‘inexorably rising workload’ and ‘static workforce’ could not be addressed without new resources.

GPs warned that the Northern Ireland Assembly government’s Transforming Your Care policy, which aims to shift care out of hospitals, is creating additional unresourced workload, and urged ministers to find a long-term funding solution.

GPC member Dr Arnie McDowell told UTV news his Newry practice was no longer able to take on new patients safely.

Breathing space

‘For the time being we have decided we are unable to safely expand our list and register new patients,' said Dr McDowell. ‘And we are hoping the Health and Social Care Board will grant a temporary list closure to enable us to have a breathing space.’

He added: ‘As GPs we need to see the department, the board and our politicians realise there is a potential looming crisis in general practice and they need to act accordingly and urgently.’

In September Northern Ireland GPC said services were under threat after then-health minister Edwin Poots revealed his department face a £140m funding shortfall as the assembly government grapples with a Westminster-imposed funding cuts and an intra-party struggle of spending priorities.

In October ministers confirmed a budget allocation for the Department of Health, Social Services and Public Safety of just £60m.

Pressure on GPs

Northern Ireland GPC chairman Dr Tom Black said: ‘It is clear that urgent action is needed to alleviate the pressures being experienced in GP surgeries across Northern Ireland.

‘Many practices are finding it difficult to recruit new staff for a variety of reasons including the overwhelming workload, increasing cuts and a lack of funding.

‘GPs are heading into a crisis situation which must be addressed urgently by the Health and Social Care Board.'

He added: ‘We are not asking for a short-term fix. The fact of the matter is that GP services need to be core funded on a long-term basis.  However immediate steps are necessary to manage workload and demand.

‘It is crucial that these issues are addressed before GPs are left in a position whereby they have to make tough choices about the services they are able to deliver.’

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