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At the heart of general practice since 1960

Fox leaves shed as chickens raise the roof

Recruitment, violence and the NI department of health dominated the province's LMCs conference. By Ian Cameron

Northern Ireland is heading for a GP manpower crisis as

senior doctors and medical school graduates desert the province for posts elsewhere.

Practices are finding it 'practically impossible' to get locum cover and LMC representatives complained that vacancies ­ particularly for singlehanded posts ­ frequently fail to attract a single application.

Dr Brian Dunn, chair of Northern Ireland GPC, said his practice had been through the entire list of 140 locums without getting cover. 'We are looking at an impending manpower crisis in a few years' time,' he warned.

Only 50 GP registrar posts are funded each year, well short of the 70-90 new

GPs the GPC says need to be trained annually to meet

the province's needs.

Dr Tom Black, Northern Ireland GPC vice-chair, said a 50 per cent rise in overall GP numbers was needed, well above the official estimate of 30 per cent.

He blamed the disparity on failure to take account of the impact of part-time working, the fact locums do not want to become GP partners and the European Working Time

Directive.

The dearth of GPs was

exacerbated by a massive shortage of consultants, he added. There were more than 100 vacant posts, including some unfilled for five years. This left patients languishing on Europe's highest waiting lists and GPs having to pick up the pieces.

LMCs supported Dr Black's motion backing plans for a second medical school for the province at the University of Ulster.

LMCs also condemned the Department of Health, Social Services and Public Safety for not funding GP attachments to encourage junior doctors to consider general practice.

GPC UK chair Dr Hamish Meldrum said it was 'vital' that measures were put in place to deal with 'changing demographics' of the GP workforce. He said: 'You need one and a half doctors to replace each retiring GP in terms of the work you get out of them.'

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