The BMA has called for urgent action to save general practice in Northern Ireland, after the 15th GP practice in a year handed back its contract.
Cullybackey Medical Practice, which cares for 7,000 patients, announced it will hand back its contract on 30 November.
It is the fourth practice in the Ballymena area to return its contract to the Department of Health in the past 12 months.
In a message to patients, the practice’s partners said: ‘This is not a decision that has been taken lightly, but due to the retirement of three partners, the workload of a practice of this size is unsustainable for two GPs.
‘Unfortunately all efforts to recruit additional medical staff have been unsuccessful. We want to reassure our patients that we will continue to deliver GP services as normal until the contract is handed back.’
Close to one in 20 Northern Irish GP practices have now handed back their contracts in just one year and last week, six surgeries wrote to the Department of Health to raise serious concern over the closure of Maphoner Surgery in Mullaghbawn.
Dr Alan Stout, BMA NI GP committee chair, said the situation is becoming ‘increasingly desperate’ for general practice in Northern Ireland and warned Cullybackey would likely not be the last to be affected.
He said: ‘Such is the speed and number of these contract hand-backs, affecting tens of thousands of patients, that this is in danger of becoming the norm. The risks to other neighbouring practices of a list dispersal are even more destabilising.’
Dr Stout called for urgent action to be taken to save general practice before it is ‘past the point of no return’.
He said that solutions in the short term could include stabilising workloads, correcting funding allocations to meet current demand, removing disproportionate admin requirements and addressing indemnity rates.
He added: ‘Long term, we have a workforce crisis that needs meaningful action and the required funding. New GPs are coming through, but this number is not keeping up with the amount of older GPs we are losing to retirement and burnout.’
In March, chair of the RCGP in Northern Ireland Dr Ursula Mason warned that around 30 practices were at risk of closure and receiving recovery support, which is almost 10% of the total number.