General practice in Northern Ireland will receive an £8.8m funding boost as part of the 2018/19 GP contract, the Department of Health has announced.
It brings the total investment in ‘GPs and related services’ to almost £22m this year, the Department said – the largest funding allocation since 2004.
GP leaders said the additional money was ‘very welcome’ after years of chronic underfunding.
The practice-based pharmacy scheme will see £4.54m of the additional resource with a target of around 200 pharmacists working in practices across Northern Ireland by the end of the year.
In addition, £1m has been allocated to cover rising indemnity costs.
And £1.8m will be used to ‘address demographic pressures on GP practices’, including rising populations and increasing numbers of patients with long-term conditions.
The Department said that £1.5m has been allocated for improving and expanding practice premises – primarily for creating space for multi-disciplinary teams and training GP trainees.
In May the Department announced that primary care would received £15m from the £100m transformation fund from the DUP’s confidence and supply deal with the UK Government.
That money is to support implementation of multi-disciplinary teams and new models of care.
The Review Body on Doctors’ and Dentists’ Remuneration has yet to make a recommendation on how large an increase to take-home pay GPs should receive. The BMA indicated this would follow ‘later in the year’.
General practice has been hit by severe recruitment and retention problems with multiple practices facing closure in some areas.
Dr Tom Black, chair of BMA Northern Ireland’s GP committee, said and extra money in general practice was welcome.
‘GPs will be particularly happy to see further investment towards demography increases as our population is now living longer and with more complex health needs.
‘This is being felt acutely among working GPs as their numbers continue to dwindle across the country while patient numbers grow.’
He added: ‘The environment for primary care is still an extremely challenging one, yet despite this GPs remain committed as ever to providing the best possible service and level of care for their patients in these circumstances.’
Dr Grainne Doran, chair of RCGP Northern Ireland said she was pleased to see the Department’s commitment to general practice.
‘For too long, GP services have been underfunded and both doctors and patients have suffered as a result.’
She added: ‘The College has been working closely with the Department of Health to design the new model of multidisciplinary team working in primary care and funding was recently announced for piloting this.
‘Premises investment will be vital to ensure that this new way of working can be rolled-out across the entire region.’
However she added that a full solution for indemnity costs was needed in line with England and Wales where government-backed schemes have been announced.
‘We must not create financial disincentives for newly qualified GPs and trainees that will encourage them to consider working elsewhere in the UK, instead of training and working in Northern Ireland.’