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GP leaders warn 6% of NI practices could be forced to close this year

Exclusive There is no rescue in sight for more than 20 GP practices which the GPC is expecting to close in Northern Ireland this year, GP leaders have said.

The warning comes as three practices have closed down in hard-hit county Fermanagh, with a neighbouring practice taking on 3,000 extra patients.

The dire predictions, which would see the loss of around 6% of a current 343 practices in Northern Ireland, come as political uncertainty means it is ‘becoming imposssible’ to recruit GPs to take on practice responsibility.

GPC Northern Ireland chair Dr Tom Black told Pulse that as a result of the political situation, young GPs now have ‘no confidence in the system’.

He said that in Fermanagh alone, 18 practices were likely to become just five by the end of the year, with overall closures now predicted to top 20.

It comes as the GPC warned last month that closures in Belfast showed the problems facing general practice were worse than even they anticipated.

Dr Black said said: ‘We had predicted that 20 practices would close this year [across Northern Ireland], but actually it is probably going to be higher than that.’

He added that the Fermanagh situation was symptomatic of ‘how fast things are deteriorating’ across Northern Ireland, which was in a political standstill following the collapse of the power-sharing Government in January, and an inability to reach a new deal following the March election.

And Dr Black said the calling of a UK general election by Prime Minister Theresa May earlier this month has meant being thrown into poltical turmoil once more.

He told Pulse this means that the GP Future Plan, signed off in December as a rescue plan for Northern Irish general practice, is just sat on a desk with no one to action it or commit any funding.

He said: ‘The timing is very difficult, we are less likely to find a solution between the parties now.

‘We have been in limbo for the last year and we’re still in the same place.

‘It is becoming extraordinarily difficult.’

Meanwhile, details of an indicative budget that will be imposed if Northern Ireland politicians fail to reach a power-sharing agreement show health getting a cut in real terms.

Dr Black said that against the backdrop of a 5% rise in inflation the 3% increase in funding announced for health was essentially a cut.

There are no details as yet as to how health funding would be split between primary and secondary care.

The closure of three practices Co. Fermanagh, has seen 3,000 patients displaced, with another local practice – the Maple Group Practice – being assigned to take on the patients.

One of the three practices belonged to Dr Roy Leary, who retired in February but was forced to stay on as a locum because there was no one else to care for his patients.

The Northern Irish GPC is still collecting undated resignations from practices as part of a move that could see practices leaving the NHS en masse and begin charging £45 per consultation.