An influential working group set up by the Government in Northern Ireland has called for GPs to be recruited from overseas in an attempt to alleviate recruitment problems.
The group has published a report calling for increases in the number of GPs, better access to training, improved structures and teams to support practices, and an ‘effective out of hours service.’
Further recommendations are that research and innovation should be ‘embedded’ within general practice, premises are fit for purpose, GPs have a key role in improving population health and well-being, and that measures should be introduced to improve patients’ experiences of GP-led services.
The group included representatives from the GPC, RCGP, social services and nursing, and from the Department of Health, Social Services and Public Safety.
Its report says that Northern Ireland should increase the annual number of GP training places from 85 to 111 by 2019/20, and should step up overseas recruitment – including at least 10 extra GPs from EU countries over the next 12 months.
The group wants to see a trial of an out-of-hours scheme to allow pharmacists to provide an emergency supply of medication to patients free of charge, without the need for a repeat prescription.
It also suggests that nurses and pharmacists should take a more prominent role in out-of-hours care.
A ‘ring-fenced’ fund should be introduced for repairing and rebuilding premises, and GP federations must be strengthened so that they are self-supporting by April 2018, the group argues.
The recommendations link in with ongoing policy developments, such as plans to have 300 pharmacists working with practices by 2020/21, and for the development of federations.
Northern Ireland GPC chair Dr Tom Black said: ‘The GP-led care review sets out the aspirations for the effective delivery of general practice, which are very welcome. It is vital that there is now active implementation of this plan, with the required investment.
Workload has increased substantially in the last ten years and this has contributed to difficulties in GP recruitment. General practice in Northern Ireland is under-funded compared with the rest of the UK and this situation needs to be reversed to safeguard the future of general practice here.’
Health minister Simon Hamilton said: ‘I have already taken action to address some of the key issues identified by the working group. I have invested in the biggest increase in GP training places in more than a decade and I have announced a multi-year investment putting up 300 pharmacists in surgeries by 2010/21.
’These actions will help to address workload pressures and improve care for patients. But I recognise that pressure our GP services are under and that there is more to do.’
Picture credit: Northern Ireland Executive