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Every NI practice to have access to named social worker under radical plans

Every practice in Northern Ireland will have a named social worker, health visitor and district nurse by the Spring under radical plans set out by health minister Michelle O’Neill.

The minister also announced that 54 practice-based pharmacists will be recruited by the end of the year, while the Government is increasing the number of GP training places.

The ten-year plan to overhaul health and social care services in Northern Ireland is based on the government-commissioned Bengoa report, which has called for reform of a system which is ‘at breaking point’.

The radical proposals – which have not yet been costed – centre around increased investment and capacity in primary care and a focus on keeping people out of hospital.

Based on 18 recommendations set out in the long-awaited, primary care will be reconfigured to include multidisciplinary teams embedded around general practice, the minister said.

This will include a named district nurse, health visitor and social worker for every GP practice to be in place by the Spring.

And a programme to recruit practice-based pharmacists will be completed within the next five years, she said, with 54 expected to be in place by the end of the year.

The number of GP training places is set to increase to 111 by 2018, with 12 extra places next year and 14 the year after.

Additional funding is expected for primary care mental health services and training for advanced nurse practitioners and physician associates is due to start in 2017 under the plans announced by Ms O’Neill in ‘Health and Wellbeing 2026: Delivering Together’.

She also committed to further roll out of AskMyGP online service as well as better use of technology.

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The health service in Northern Ireland has been on the brink of collapse with long waiting lists, poor investment in primary care, and GPs threatening mass resignations.

GP leaders welcomed the announcement but called for more detail.

Dr John O’Kelly, chair RCGP Northern Ireland said he was pleased to see a commitment to rebalancing the relationship between secondary and primary care.’

‘Today’s announcement is the start of a long road to necessary reform and general practice will have a vital role to play in this.

‘By valuing GP federations, innovative ways of working, use of technology and multidisciplinary primary care teams patients should have access to better community-based services; however, the full extent to which this will impact on the existing pressures in general practice will only be known when we see the detail relating to resource and implementation plans.’

Dr John Woods, BMA Northern Ireland council chair, said: ‘The proposals for primary care are encouraging, and we welcome the planned increase in training places, the commitment to multi-disciplinary teams and the roll out of AskMyGP.

‘Obviously we will need to see more of the detail, particularly around timescales and solid funding commitments and we look forward to examining the report and the Minister’s proposals in more detail.’

Professor Rafael Bengoa who had been tasked with reviewing health and social care services in Northern Ireland said the country faced a ‘stark choice’ between resisting change and seeing services collapse or embracing change.

‘Maintaining the current configuration of services is tying up resources in the acute sector which would have a greater impact if they were invested in primary and social care,’ the report said.

‘This report presents an opportunity for transformation that must be seized and acted upon.’