GPs in Northern Ireland could walk away from their NHS contract and come up with an ‘alternative option’ if the problems facing the profession are not solved, according to the country’s GPC chair.
In an exclusive interview with Pulse, Dr Alan Stout revealed that the BMA has an ‘options paper’ which includes the potential to ‘simply leave the current contract’.
While Dr Stout said most GPs want to solve Northern Ireland’s problems within the current contract with the NHS, the option to leave is something he is hearing ‘more and more and more’.
He said that the GPC wants to avoid this option, but they may be ‘forced from the grassroots’ to do so if the Government does not take action.
Over the last year, 16 practices have handed back their contracts, and the country has been without a first or deputy first ministers for over a year, with civil servants only permitted to make decisions that follow policy previously set by ministers.
The BMA has repeatedly called for actions to reverse the crisis, and recently published its ‘plan to save general practice’, which said they are ‘seeing an unsafe service in every area’ of Northern Ireland.
The plan included priorities such as securing an indemnity solution for GPs, who unlike GPs in England and Wales do not have state-backed indemnity, as well as continuing the QOF freeze with a view to eventually abolishing it.
On whether Northern Ireland GPs may consider industrial action, which is on the table for English GPs, Dr Stout highlighted that this would be difficult as the country does not have ‘a government that can actually step in and act and resolve it’.
However, he suggested that the high number of contract hand-backs represented a form of action – ‘we’re seeing it play out in front of us without actually going to take industrial action, because we’re seeing people then just taking their own action’.
The GPC NI chair said: ‘What we have, which complements this plan to save general practice, is we also have an options paper, which is a dynamic paper.
‘And what we’ve heard loud and clear from our representatives is that they want to solve the problems that general practice has within the current environment, within the contract with the NHS.
‘But one of the options is to simply leave the current contract and come up with an alternative option. And we’re hearing that more and more and more.
‘If we cannot see action on these fundamental things that need to be done, that’s where the profession is going to drive us to.’
He added: ‘We’re basically doing everything we can to avoid going or being forced to go to that option. And we’ll be forced from the grassroots to go for that option.’
In June, Pulse reported that the new budget for Northern Ireland could mean millions of pounds worth of cuts to GP funding.
And last month, the country’s Department of Health confirmed that of the 121 funded GP training places for this year, only 99 have been filled.
While the Review Body on Doctors’ and Dentists’ Remuneration (DDRB) recommended a 6% pay rise for GPs in Northern Ireland, as in Scotland and Wales, the BMA NI was told last month that there is no funding for this uplift.