GP leaders in Northern Ireland have raised a public petition which demands immediate action from the government on what is perceived to be an escalating crisis in general practice.
With the situation in general practice across the UK seemingly quite serious, the issues being faced in Northern Ireland will be familiar to many doctors.
Patients at every surgery in Northern Ireland are being asked to sign the petition, which urges the health minister of the nation to invest 10% of overall health spending in general practice.
It is asserted that this extra money will enable more GPs to train, saving practices from closure.
The petition also asks for red tape to be eliminated, effectively enabling GPs to spend more time treating patients.
The chairman of the general practice committee in Northern Ireland, Dr Tom Black, suggested that the government is currently “sleepwalking towards a crisis in primary care”.
NIGPC had revealed back in June that 74% of practices stated that they were struggling, and nearly 10% “barely coping” because of growing patient list sizes, workforce gaps, and mounting bureaucracy.
In an attempt to improve the situation of general practice in northern Ireland, the petition campaign will run throughout the entirety of July and August, with the intention of presentation to ministers when the Governmental assembly reconvenes in September.
As the air of disgruntlement grows in general practice, RCGP Northern Ireland chairman Dr John O’Kelly held crisis talks with health minister Michelle O’Neill at Stormont.
O’Kelly has indicated that he is hopeful that these talks will ultimately broker a satisfactory agreement, but warned that if direct action is not forthcoming that the future of general practice is grim.
The chairman even went as far as suggesting that general practice may not exist in the next decade in absentia of government action.
Meanwhile, the aforementioned Black suggested that the majority of rural practices in the country were at serious risk of closure due to workforce and workload issues.
“The situation is particularly bad for smaller, single-handed and rural practices that have fewer GPs working in them and who are struggling to fill vacancies. We’re calling on the public to show their support for our call for the government to urgently address the problems faced by general practice by signing our petition. This is a matter of urgency to not only rescue general practice, but to ensure that patients in Northern Ireland have a responsive, safe and sustainable general practice service that they know will be there when they need it.”
Responding to the claims of GPs, health Minister Michelle O’Neill conceded that there is significant pressure on doctors in Northern Ireland, and resolved to address the issue, without making any specific commitments.
“I think we can all recognise that GPs are under significant pressure. I have committed to work with them and I think we can continue to build on some of the good initiatives we’ve had over the past number of years. We have to focus on the big picture.”