Exclusive GPs in Northern Ireland are unlikely to walk away from the NHS despite more practices facing closure in the coming months, Pulse has learned.
The BMA has been collecting undated resignations since January 2017 after 97% of GPs backed the move in a series of meetings across the country.
Once 60% of practices have sent in resignations, the BMA has said it will launch its ‘plan B’ of GPs walking away from the NHS and potentially charging around £45 for appointments.
But BMA GP Committee chair for Northern Ireland Dr Tom Black said while some resignations are still trickling in, many practices are hunkering down, focusing on core services and trying to fix the problems they are facing, and he does not expect the threshold to be met.
He added that despite there still being no government in place to implement the agreed GP Rescue Package – since the collapse of the power-sharing agreement in Northern Ireland – the Department of Health was working on aspects of the deal to take the pressure off overstretched GPs.
‘I never wanted general practice outside the NHS but we had to make it clear to the powers that be that failure to act would result in us leaving,’ he said.
‘The Department of Health are working with us now on things like building up multidisciplinary teams.
‘If the GP forward led review is implemented then we can avoid resignations.’
Dr Black added that practices only tended to send in resignations when they had reached a ‘there is no alternative’ moment.
A part-time pharmacist in every practice and a planned enhanced service to train support staff on dealing with aspects of admin usually left to GPs will help practices, he added.
‘Hopefully with help from pharmacists practices are hunkering down and focusing on core services and that means they are a wee bit more stable.
‘Things are very difficult, I would never say we are getting any relief but I have always said this is our problem and we have to own it.’
However, GPs in the country are still under severe strain due to workforce shortages and lack of funding.
In Fermanagh, 18 practices have merged into eight in the past year with another expected to close.
Dr Black said more mergers or closures in other areas of the country were likely and they were working to keep practices under GMS contracts.
‘I wouldn’t be surprised if another 20 or 30 consolidate in the next year.
‘We have said to GPs to consolidate down and stick to core service and try not to take on any more admin or paperwork.’
The workload optimisation enhanced service, which funds training for other staff to take over roles such as reading hospital letters and actioning requests for blood tests was recently piloted in three practices.
‘Each of these things are saving 10-15 minutes a day but add them together that is another 30-40 minutes. So GPs can focus on core services’ he said.