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GPs set for commissioning role in Northern Ireland

GPs in Northern Ireland should be handed a bigger role in commissioning services by taking on devolved budgets for out-of-hours, prescribing and community nursing, according to the new chair of GPC Northern Ireland.

Dr Tom Black, who succeeded Dr Brian Dunn this week in the role, which also sees him becoming the newest member of the UK negotiating team, told Pulse GPs in the province were keen to take on more commissioning responsibility, but in a more phased and gradual way than their colleagues in England.

He said: ‘The problem we have is it is currently a very centralised model with a single board. We need to persuade this single board to devolve budgets to local commissioning groups in areas like prescribing, out-of-hours and community nursing. If a budget can be devolved, we shouldn't stand on ceremony.'

Dr Black, a GP in Derry, also suggested local commissioning groups could take on budgets for outpatient services and patient diagnostics.

But he added: ‘I don't see it developing where we progress towards the English model. I can't see it happening rapidly. We have to work collaboratively.'

The call for greater GP involvement in commissioning comes as the Northern Irish government carries out a review of all the country's health services, looking at ways of reconfiguring hospital care and transferring more services into primary care.

Dr Black also revealed that there was no push to pursue any single contracting model for GPs in Northern Ireland and break away from a UK-wide deal. ‘We don't have the resources to negotiate a contract separately,' he said.