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GPs receive £2.3m in return for extended access over holidays

GPs in Northern Ireland have been handed an ‘extra winter payment’ of £2.27m to enable them to offer more urgent appointments in the New Year.

Northern Ireland’s Health and Social Care Board said the money would be available in time for the period following the Christmas and New Year holidays, which is busier than normal for GPs.

The HSCB said 97% of GP practices had committed themselves to the initiative, which would enable GP practices to:

  • offer same-day urgent appointments;
  • remain open at lunch time;
  • avoid half-day closure following the Christmas and New Year holidays.

‘We are delighted that the majority of GP practices have committed to supporting this initiative,’ said Dr Margaret O’Brien, the HSCB’s head of general medical services.

‘(It) will enable more people to get the urgent appointment they need and help reduce pressure on other parts of the health service over the end-of-year holidays. This investment will deliver much needed additional patient care over the busy winter period.’

Separately, Northern Ireland’s Department of Health has invested £2.1m in a ‘pharmacy first’ service to take the pressure off GPs at a time when winter ailments are common. It will support patients to have a consultation in a private area with their community pharmacist and allow them to receive advice and treatment for sore throats, colds and flu-like illnesses.

And a ‘Stay Well This Winter’ campaign is encouraging people to treat themselves for coughs and colds rather than go to their GP or accident and emergency department.

Dr Alan Stout, BMA Northern Ireland GP committee chair, said: ‘This additional funding for GP services is very welcome.

‘The Christmas and New Year holiday period can be very busy for GPs and practice staff, so being able to offer additional urgent appointments is good news. It should also help reduce pressure on out-of-hours services and accident and emergency.’

He urged patients to use services ‘appropriately’ over the coming weeks.

‘Anyone with a cough or cold should use the pharmacy service first before trying to see a GP. These illnesses do tend to get better with self-care alone.’