Northern Ireland sets up working group to tackle pressures facing GPs

The government of Northern Ireland has established a working group to assess the workload and workforce pressures facing general practice.

Dr Tom Black: minister has taken GPs' concerns on board

The cross-party group will look at both short- and long-term measures to ensure that patients in Northern Ireland will continue to be able to access ‘world class’ primary healthcare despite soaring pressure on GPs.

Demand for GPs in Northern Ireland has rocketed, with GP surgeries having to deal with 5.5m more appointments a year compared to a decade ago. Many patients now struggle to secure appointments.

The working group includes representation from general practice, nursing, allied health professionals and health and social care trusts. It is expected to feature representatives from the BMA, RCGP and Royal College of Nursing.

GPC Northern Ireland chairman Dr Tom Black welcomed the announcement. He said: ‘We have been highlighting for many years the pressures faced by general practice, including ever increasing workloads, the chronic underfunding of out-of-hours services as well as the need to address the recruitment and retention of GPs.

Northern Ireland GP crisis

‘We are pleased the minister has taken our concerns on board and hopefully this group will help address these workload and workforce issues, as well as looking at how best GP federations in Northern Ireland can be used to address the crisis in primary care.’

Northern Ireland health minister Simon Hamilton said: ‘It’s clear that if we are to deal with the challenge of rising demand, we must find more innovative and radical approaches to delivering services. The status quo is not sustainable.

‘I have therefore asked my department to work with health and care professionals to assess the way primary care services are delivered and consider how we ensure we have a service which is fit for the future.’

The group is expected to complete a report revewing the problems by February 2016.

Photo: JH Lancy

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