But in a sign that GP leaders could be stepping away from immediate action, practices will be asked to sign forms agreeing to end their contracts with the health service only when they believe their practice to be at risk of collapse.
GPC Northern Ireland (NIGPC) has agreed to set a threshold of 60% of practices signing resignations and to hold locality meetings before they move forward with any action.
NIGPC chair Dr Tom Black said he thought it could take months now to reach the 60% of practices required. ‘I think this will take months as we have not encouraged practices to submit resignations but rather suggested that they should return the forms if and when they feel that their practice is at risk of collapse,' he said.
Meanwhile, he added, the ‘political hiatus’ would ‘probably stymie our actions in the short term’.
Northern Ireland’s political parties are gearing up for a general election on 2 March after the power-sharing executive collapsed in the wake of the renewable energy scandal.
Dr Black said the NIGPC was hoping to send out letters to practices this week to begin the process which could lead the service out of the NHS.
Mass resignation 'inevitable'
NIGPC voted last month to seek undated resignations from practices after 97% of GPs in Northern Ireland balloted in a series of crisis meetings supported the plan. In December, Sinn Fein health minister Michelle O’Neill agreed a plan of action proposed by GPs, which includes increasing training places and developing multidisciplinary teams.
But Dr Black has said that without an urgent rescue plan with new funding for the service the collapse of the government meant the looming mass resignation of GPs from NHS contracts was ‘inevitable’.
NIGPC is demanding investment of 10% of the Northern Ireland healthcare budget on the GP service, training and recruitment of more GPs and a reduction of bureaucracy.
GP leaders have drawn up several alternative plans to establish a GP service outside the NHS, but Dr Black said the most likely model would be direct charges for patients, on similar lines to services over the border in the Republic of Ireland.
Dr Black said the letter to practices was being finalised and could be sent out this week. ‘There are a number of conditions that we have promised to undertake, such as locality meetings and 60% threshold of practices before we would action this.’
‘I think this will take months as we have not encouraged practices to submit resignations but rather suggested that they should return the forms if and when they feel that their practice is at risk of collapse. Meanwhile we have a political hiatus which will probably stymie our actions in the short term.’