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BMA may call off mass resignation plans after GP investment

Exclusive GPs in Northern Ireland could roll back on plans to resign from the NHS as a group following a raft of measures designed to ease pressure on the profession, the BMA has said.

Northern Ireland GP Committee chair Dr Tom Black told Pulse that while the collection of undated resignations is open until March 2019, an investment package this year of £22m may have helped to turn the tide.

He said a total of £12.3m has been invested in embedding pharmacists in practices and a transformation fund will be used to roll out multidisciplinary teams to take on some of the GP workload.

Meanwhile, funding has also been set aside to put paramedics and more advanced nurse practitioners in primary care.

Dr Black said this represents the most significant investment in primary care since the 2004 contract and it may be enough that GPs choose to remain in the NHS.

He said: ‘If we can get all these programmes in place, we will have less need for undated resignations.’

He added GPs voting to walk away from the NHS had ‘focused people’s minds’ on what needed to be done.

Mass resignations ‘was never something we wanted to do, we wanted to get proper investment so from that point of view it has been a success’, he said.

The BMA had initially said that once 60% of practices sent in resignations, it would launch plan B – details of which are still being ironed out – and GPs would leave the NHS, potentially charging around £45 for appointments.

The GPC said that although a lot of resignations were sent in at the start, they did not hit the 60% threshold and since the spate of announcements on investment, very few have been coming in.

The GPC in Northern Ireland voted in January last year to start collecting resignations after 97% of GPs backed the move in a series of meetings held across the country.

Dr Black, who steps down as chair this month, said while most of the investment was into transformation rather than into core funding it was the best that could be achieved in the current political stalemate.

He said: ‘To be frank, we still have considerable problems, this funding is a great help but, until we bed these new staff in, we will really have to work hard to maintain services.’

Towns across Northern Ireland have reported general practice being on the brink of collapse as GPs quit or retire with no one to take their place.

Dr Black added that potential delays in setting up a second medical school in the country were also an issue given ongoing recruitment problems.

He said: ‘We had hoped to have it up and running next year but it is being held up by a lack of decision making at the Assembly.’

The news comes despite recent data from NHS Digital showing Northern Irish GP partners were the only group of GPs in the whole UK to experience a decline in take-home pay in 2016/17, by 1.7% to £90,500 – the lowest estimate since 2010/11.

However, salaried GPs in the country saw the largest increase of all, at 17%, to £55,300 in the same year.