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Multi-disciplinary teams in Northern Ireland to expand to all five health boards

Multi-disciplinary teams are to expand into all five health board areas in Northern Ireland, under new plans from the Department of Health. 

The initiative, which aim to increase capacity in primary care and to reduce GP workload, has expanded to two new areas, set to cover a total of around 675,000 patients.

This will entail placing physiotherapists, mental health specialists and social workers at GP practices, with patients able to make an appointment with them instead of a GP. There will also be significant investment throughout nursing, especially for health visitors and district nurses.

The expansion will bring the model to Causeway and Newry & District, while West Belfast Federation will receive funding to fully roll out the model. This will mean that multidisciplinary teams will now be in all five health trust areas. 

The multi-disciplinary teams form part of the flagship initiatives being rolled out as part of the Health and Wellbeing 2026: Delivering Together plan which launched three years ago, sharing visions for transformations within the health and social care field.

Up to £11.8m will be invested in the project in 2019/20, to be matched by a total of approximately £25m planned for the year succeeding.

Dr Alan Stout, chair of BMA NI’s GP Committee said: ‘Despite the recent well-documented pressures on the health service in Northern Ireland, this announcement shows a clear commitment to the future model of provision of healthcare here.

‘This new model will clearly benefit patients, but also importantly the system as a whole, by increasing capacity in primary care, supporting and sustaining practices and improving access for patients with a wide range of conditions.

‘As the programme rolls out, patients can see that an appointment with advanced nurse practitioners, physios, social workers, mental health support staff or pharmacists will provide them with the care and information they need.’

He added: ‘Importantly the multidisciplinary team approach also frees up GP time to deal with the more complex conditions, and that is critical when we are working towards developing a sustainable model of service delivery, one that focuses on out of hospital care.’

Meanwhile, Department secretary Richard Pengelly praised how the ongoing roll-out will ‘radically reform’ service delivery, enabling patients to receive quicker support due to additional focus on prevention and early intervention, which will ultimately ‘reduce the need for referrals’ and pressure on secondary care.

Dr Margaret O’Brien, head of General Medical Services at the Health and Social Care Board emphasised how this development will ‘ensure that general practice in Northern Ireland is sustained for the future’.

This update follows the Department’s announcement that GPs will receive a 20% funding increase thanks to the new contract, although a fifth of Northern Irish training places sit unfilled.