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No Darzi, but it's not all dandy for Northern Ireland GPs

The setting for last weekend’s Northern Ireland LMCs conference was perfect – clear blue skies, a sunny Spring Sunday and a picturesque seaside location in Newcastle, County Down.

By Steve Nowottny

The setting for last weekend's Northern Ireland LMCs conference was perfect – clear blue skies, a sunny Spring Sunday and a picturesque seaside location in Newcastle, County Down.

And the tone of the Northern Ireland LMCs conference matched. The 40-odd GPs who came from across the province to debate the issues du jour were, generally speaking, surprisingly upbeat.

It was perhaps fitting that the storm clouds – bearing an unseasonable amount of April snow – were all ‘across the water'.

Yes, GPs in Northern Ireland face pressing issues – commissioning, the developing telehealth pilot and so on. But the prevailing mood was one of relief.

No extended hours, no polyclinics, no Summary Care Record or Choose and Book, no privatisation agenda, no Darzi – delegates were quick to count their blessings. It wasn't, as one delegate pointed out, a case of ‘I'm alright Jack'.

The LMCs were keen to show solidarity with their beleaguered English colleagues. But as they looked out across the Irish Sea, and heard from GPC UK negotiators Dr Laurence Buckman and Dr Richard Vautrey, they thought: there but for the grace of devolution…

The same is true elsewhere. Devolution is starting to make a real difference in the experience of GPs across the four countries (see the Welsh Assembly report last week). And while Dr Jack, Dr Jock and Dr Jones have been just about surviving – Dr John's been having a tough time of it lately.

For now LMCs across the UK remain firmly behind a national contract, which brings real security to many. But some motions debated last week, such as a move for GPs in Northern Ireland to take back responsibility for their own OOH, would have challenged the status quo.

Something which, as morale among GPs in England sinks ever lower, we can expect to see more of.

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