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Doctors losing public's confidence, says report

GPs in Northern Ireland have attacked Government implementation of the new contract which has left the province still lagging behind the rest of the UK.

A series of disputes with health and social care boards over staff funding, delays in payment of access money and a failure to implement QMAS have shattered confidence in the contract.

Practices in some areas also complain boards have made little preparation for taking over out-of-hours.

GPC Northern Ireland chair Dr Brian Dunn said he was worried boards and the Department of Health, Social Care and Public Safety were 'detaching themselves as much as possible from the national contract', leaving GPs with 'severe discontent'.

GPs said they were beginning to doubt the contract would create the 'level playing field' between practices and countries they hoped for.

The GPC has selected three test cases on boards' refusal to honour staff funding that practices had been told would be recurrent, and could now hit profits or force redundancies. The GPC is collating documents that it says prove recurrent funding was promised, before an adjudication on behalf of 50 practices.

Access preparation money to prepare for 48-hour access targets has been delayed by up to five months. No practice has yet received it, although it was expected in June.

GP profits could also be hit by delays in implementing QMAS ­ the system that anal-yses how many quality points practices have earned ­ as practices will find it more difficult to identify what quality gaps need to be filled. It will not be installed until next year now.

Dr Michael Scott, a GP in Brookborough, Co. Ferman-agh, said failure to address the issues would leave small practices particularly vulnerable: 'Historically some practices have had more money for staff per GP. That has been

carried over to the new contract.'

He added forms that measure access achievement were overly bureaucractic, and said without QMAS GPs would find it hard to be as efficient as they could be. 'There's a lot of concern,' he said.

Dr Theo Nugent, chair of the Southern LMC, said he was worried about out-of-hours arrangements for several practices in two remote towns. 'No progress has been made in the lead up to January 1,' he said. 'There are no substantive plans available to reassure

GPs in Kilkeel and Annalong.'

Dr Dunn said: 'All these things are piling up and there's very little goodwill from GPs in anything. It's frustrating to see Northern Ireland lagging behind. Out-of-hours will only succeed because of goodwill.'

The GPC also complained the department continues to be slow to plan implementation of certain initiatives on the cards in England such as practice-led commissioning.

By Ian Cameron

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