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GP services to be hit by Northern Ireland budget restraints

Harsh budgetary constraints in Northern Ireland will hit funding for primary care with knock-on effects on GP waiting times and out-of-hours services, BMA Northern Ireland has warned.

Projects carried out as part of the health service shake-up Transforming Your Care will have to be put on hold because promised funding has not materialised, the BMA has said, after the Department of Health, Social Services and Public Safety was only handed £20m in the June monitoring round, despite asking for £120m.

The warning follows confirmation this week from health minister Edwin Poots that integrated care partnerships – aimed at joining up local services including GPs, community health and social care providers, hospital specialists and representatives from the independent and voluntary sector – would be affected unless more cash is found. He has asked the Northern Ireland Executive to make a decision on the issue.

Mr Poots said that without more funding, partnerships that had already begun implementing change would still be able to press ahead but other areas would not be able to kick-start their reforms.

He said: ‘The pace of change and achievement of reforms planned for 2014/15 would be adversely impacted, as would the delivery of a change in expenditure patterns away from hospitalised care.’

Northern Irish GPC chair, Dr Tom Black, warned that cuts facing the health service could put people’s lives at risk.

Speaking to the Irish TV channel UTV, Dr Black said: ‘These cuts will mean longer waits in A&E, they will mean longer waits to see your GP, particularly out of hours. I would expect some centres for A&E and for GP out of hours will have to close because there won’t be funding and there won’t be staffing levels to cover them.’

Dr Black is calling on politicians to ‘stop the confrontation, reach consensus and solve the problem for the health service’.