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GPs not consulted on primary care centres

GPs are being cut out of consultation over a new generation of primary care centres which are at the heart of plans to overhaul the NHS in Northern Ireland.

By Ian Cameron

The centres are the key element in a 20-year plan by the Department of Health, Social Services and Public Safety to cut lengthy hospital waiting lists by bringing care closer to patients' homes.

But GPs have warned they will be an expensive flop unless they have a say in where the centres are built and what services they house.

The GPC in Northern Ireland said hospital trusts were submitting business cases to the department, including the location of the centres, services provided and staffing, without consulting GPs.

Dr Brian Dunn, GPC Northern Ireland chair, said he had written to the minister to complain at the move. He warned the new centres were in danger of mimicking health centres built in the 1960s which became rundown after being starved of revenue funding.

He said: 'We are worried history will repeat itself.'

Dr Jimmy Courtney, Eastern LMC secretary, said GPs were concerned that health and care centres would swallow up all the available capital resources, starving GPs of funding to develop their own premises.

He said: 'It seems to me what is being proposed is putting trusts in the driving seat of developing primary care without fully engaging or involving GPs.'

Dr Ronnie Baird, a GP in Belfast, said there were definite benefits for GPs in moving to one of the centres, but he had not been consulted about the possibility of doing so.

'The trusts have just done their own thing,' he said.

A spokeswoman from the Southern Health and Social Services Board claimed GPs were 'fully engaged' in the development of care centres.

She said it had started a series of workshops with GPs on how proposals should develop and how best to engage them in the design stage.

The health and care centres are meant to bring together GPs, nurse practitioners, pharmacists, physiotherapists, social workers and dietitians on one site and give access to X-ray and minor surgery in the community.

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