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Independents' Day

GP leaders warn 6% of NI practices could be forced to close this year

Exclusive There is no rescue in sight for more than 20 GP practices which the GPC is expecting to close in Northern Ireland this year, GP leaders have said.

The warning comes as three practices have closed down in hard-hit county Fermanagh, with a neighbouring practice taking on 3,000 extra patients.

The dire predictions, which would see the loss of around 6% of a current 343 practices in Northern Ireland, come as political uncertainty means it is 'becoming imposssible' to recruit GPs to take on practice responsibility.

GPC Northern Ireland chair Dr Tom Black told Pulse that as a result of the political situation, young GPs now have 'no confidence in the system'.

He said that in Fermanagh alone, 18 practices were likely to become just five by the end of the year, with overall closures now predicted to top 20.

It comes as the GPC warned last month that closures in Belfast showed the problems facing general practice were worse than even they anticipated.

Dr Black said said: 'We had predicted that 20 practices would close this year [across Northern Ireland], but actually it is probably going to be higher than that.'

He added that the Fermanagh situation was symptomatic of ‘how fast things are deteriorating’ across Northern Ireland, which was in a political standstill following the collapse of the power-sharing Government in January, and an inability to reach a new deal following the March election.

And Dr Black said the calling of a UK general election by Prime Minister Theresa May earlier this month has meant being thrown into poltical turmoil once more.

He told Pulse this means that the GP Future Plan, signed off in December as a rescue plan for Northern Irish general practice, is just sat on a desk with no one to action it or commit any funding.

He said: 'The timing is very difficult, we are less likely to find a solution between the parties now.

‘We have been in limbo for the last year and we’re still in the same place.

‘It is becoming extraordinarily difficult.'

Meanwhile, details of an indicative budget that will be imposed if Northern Ireland politicians fail to reach a power-sharing agreement show health getting a cut in real terms.

Dr Black said that against the backdrop of a 5% rise in inflation the 3% increase in funding announced for health was essentially a cut.

There are no details as yet as to how health funding would be split between primary and secondary care.

The closure of three practices Co. Fermanagh, has seen 3,000 patients displaced, with another local practice - the Maple Group Practice - being assigned to take on the patients.

One of the three practices belonged to Dr Roy Leary, who retired in February but was forced to stay on as a locum because there was no one else to care for his patients.

The Northern Irish GPC is still collecting undated resignations from practices as part of a move that could see practices leaving the NHS en masse and begin charging £45 per consultation.

Readers' comments (9)

  • So how many undated resignations have been collected so far?

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  • They need to get on with collecting those resignations before all the practices that signed them go bust anyway.

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  • I can understand why no one wants to board the titanic,I cant understand why some people dont want to get off!!

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  • What happened where is the result of the vote+ the undated resignations.Someone needs to grasp the nettle.UK primary care is withering on the vine.

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  • Mr Mephisto

    I hear that the "Portadown Problem" (which was miraculously fixed by the HSCB under the then Health Ministers "Please Just Make It Go Away" policy) may be lurching towards a further crisis.

    This time around it will be a 45,000 patient crisis which will make the previous 5,000 patient crisis look like a storm in a teacup.

    Bring it on - I want to quit the NHS now.

    Exiting the NHS does not hold any fear for me anymore.

    A much bigger fear would trying to struggle on in a failing system and burning out or ending my career in the courts getting sued for something I missed just due to sheer work overload, fatigue, and stress.

    My dilithium crystals are on their last legs and in the immortal words of Scotty “I dannae is she can take any more, Captain”

    Please “Beam me up Scotty” and remove me from this living hell that modern day General Practice has become.

    I have had enough of being everyone’s scapegoat, punch-bag and dumping ground – the press, the politicians, the public and secondary care.

    Anything is better than this.

    I can’t wait to see how they try and manage a health service without GPs because that is what is just about to happen next.

    Don’t say we didn’t tell you so.

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  • We have signed our form. The lack of an executive in NI at present means that no decisions are being made beyond what is for lunch in Stormont each day

    Meanwhile we continue to deal with patients waiting up to 3 years to see a specialist and asking us to manage a problem we referred because we couldn't manage it in the first place...

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  • Council of Despair

    if things were really that bad then they would have already collected all the undated resignations they needed and the headline would be - NI preparing to leave NHS.

    the reality is with a bit of innovation, resilience and excellent political support and work force planning it has never been a better time to be a GP. what we are seeing is a re-organisation of services but the heads at the doh know what they are doing.

    soon we will have 1500 super surgeries servicing the needs of a 70 million population and with GPs stationed in A&E and the extra 5000 GPs coming on board - things have never been better.

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  • @10:38

    I hope you're being sarcastic.

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  • It pains me as a GP in England to see the awful struggle my colleagues are going through in Northern Ireland. It is a symptom of under-funding in general practice and is widespread, to a greater or lesser extent, in the UK as a whole. Although I don’t work in Northern Ireland, I write as someone who went to school in Belfast, is the son of a late GP and medical graduate of Queen's University Belfast, a cousin of a Lurgan GP and practice nurse and a friend of a GP, all in Northern Ireland. They tell me of the difficulties in recruitment and retention.

    For me, the vital role played by GPs is not being recognised, acknowledged, funded or rewarded. Most of what GPs do cannot be measured through targets such as the QOF. Rather, it is the huge workload that comes with being an advocate and carer for the frail and elderly, those with mental illness, the homeless and the many others who find themselves with significant health needs and present to a GP for help.

    The illness and suffering that many of our patients have is immeasurable and they do not 'fit' the guidelines and targets which make up a major part of the GP and primary care team’s workload. This is where Northern Ireland GPs, and indeed all UK GPs, are struggling most to deliver. This hugely-skilled workforce needs support and funding to save the essential service they provide.

    If the service GPs provide continues to be undervalued and underfunded, it will be to the detriment of our society and the ethos of the NHS with access at the point of need for all.

    One could argue that in England, there have been gestures of support through the GP 5 Year Forward View, however, this is not the case in Northern Ireland where I understand that the very worrying trend of GP practice closure is greater than that in England.

    As one colleague said to me, General Practice in Northern Ireland is “on its knees”. We must all be mindful to let everyone know about the importance of GPs, including our patients who do not wish to lose us and our policy makers, so that that those making decisions are aware of what is at stake.

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