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GP leaders plead with civil servants to rescue NI general practice

Northern Irish GP leaders are pleading with civil servants to roll out the pre-agreed Northern Ireland GP rescue deal as the political stalemate rumbles on.

The GP Rescue Plan, modelled on NHS England’s GP Forward View and hammered out and signed off last December, needs to be implemented before it is too late, the BMA warns.

The breakdown of the power-sharing Government in January has left the country’s crisis-hit NHS in limbo, despite a raft of policies previously agreed to turn the situation around.

This included the rescue plan – the exact details of which have not been revealed – and a 10-year transformation agenda for health and social care which was announced in October 2016 before the Government collapsed.

Dr Tom Black, Northern Ireland BMA GP Committee chair, said the Department of Health has said it has not got access to funding to implement plans to invest in general practice, despite them being agreed months ago.

However, Dr Black continues to meet with civil servants – including a meeting earlier this week – arguing that the stalemate cannot continue.

‘There seems to be no imminent possibility of politicians being back in place so we need to go ahead.

‘These policy decisions were signed off at the end of December and civil servants need to implement them,’ he told Pulse.

The GPC in Northern Ireland is also still trying to get agreement on the 2017/18 GP contract which was supposed to be in place in April.

‘We are in discussions about the 17/18 contract and we are hoping that will go ahead in the next month or so but it is very difficult,’ Dr Black said.

His comments follow calls from medical Royal Colleges across Northern Ireland for urgent cross party action to reform health and social care.

In a signed statement, the group including the RCGP warned that ‘healthcare reform has been delayed for too long and, as a result, our health and social care system is deteriorating and patient care is suffering’.

The response was in reaction to the announcement that the five health trusts in the country were planning around £80m of cuts – mainly targeting hospitals but which would have a knock on effect on the rest of the NHS.

‘In the absence of strategic decision making and planned reform, reactive cuts will be made for the purpose of balancing the books rather than to ensure that the best possible services are being delivered to patients within our given resources,’ the joint statement said.

General practice in the country has been hit hard by chronic underfunding – at just 5% of the NHS budget the lowest in the UK – and severe recruitment and retention problems.

The GPC has predicted 6% of practices could be forced to close this year and is continuing to collected undated resignations after GPs voted to walk away from the NHS.

Details of the Plan B outlining charging for appointments and around staff, pensions and indemnity once GPs are outside the NHS are still being worked out.

But GP negotiators have said there is a risk that with closures of practices and no current government in Northern Ireland general practice will ‘collapse’ altogether before 60% of practices are collected.