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‘Narrative’ around access is placing ‘unfair’ strain on GPs, says NI health minister


No ‘antagonism’ Between Northern Ireland Health Sectors As ‘seen Elsewhere’ In UK, Says Health Minister


The ‘narrative’ around general practice being closed is placing an unfair strain on GPs in Northern Ireland and the rest of the UK, health minister Robin Swann has said.

In an exclusive interview with Pulse, Mr Swann said that the narrative being put out by ‘various sections of the media’ is unfair to the GP workforce.

He added that there are no plans in Northern Ireland for GP practices to be run by hospital trusts, as is thought to be favoured by UK health secretary Sajid Javid.

This is in part because of the ‘good working relationship’ between his Department of Health and the medical profession – which include ‘regular meetings’ between him and the BMA – and the lack of ‘antagonism’ that is seen in other parts of the UK.

In his interview with Pulse, he said there are workforce problems in general practice in Northern Ireland, and pressures around secondary care are adding to the strain on GPs.

He said: ‘If you put pressure on one place, it’s felt elsewhere and across the entirety of the system. And that’s why we’re seeing the additional pressures coming on our GPs.

‘I think one of the unfortunate things is we’re also seeing a narrative over here now being pursued by some of our politicians, and some sections of our media. And I think it’s been unfair to our GP workforce and the narrative [that] they’re not open, they’re not serving their people, they’re not looking after the constituencies that they’re working for. And I think that narrative is unhelpful in the perception, but also on the GPs themselves, because it’s putting an additional strain and stress on them that I think is unfair.’

When asked whether Northern Ireland has any plans for GPs working under hospital trusts, Mr Swann said: ‘We don’t have any intention of going down that route at this current time. 

‘The GMS contract that we currently have with our GPs is something that we’ll continue to look out and refresh as to how that can be enhanced, how it can be worked on.’

Mr Swann ‘regular meetings’ between himself and the BMA Northern Ireland GP Committee mean that ‘those conversations go on on a regular basis’, including any discussions that are needed about the ‘delivery of service’.

He added: ‘But one of the things that Northern Ireland has, from the Department of Health, from the Health and Social Care Board, is a good working relationship and synergies across all our various sectors, so we don’t see some of the same differences of opinion or antagonism that can be seen elsewhere.’ 

Mr Swann recently praised the efforts of GPs in responding to the Covid pandemic, including the ‘key role of general practice in the successful delivery of the vaccination programme’. 

The Northern Ireland Government thanked GP teams in April last year for staffing Covid centres which saw over 40,000 patients. It followed Pulse revealing GPs felt ‘bullied’ into staffing them as it was not part of their contract, with 130 GPs signing an open letter to Mr Swann on the matter.

Elsewhere in the UK, the BMA England GPC voted to pause all meetings with NHS England in May 2021, due to NHS England’s ‘failure to support general practice’.

Current BMA England GPC chair Dr Farah Jameel said she had hoped to reset the relationship with the Government in England.

READERS' COMMENTS [2]

Patrufini Duffy 9 March, 2022 5:52 pm

And….do nothing. Great plan.

James Bissett 10 March, 2022 11:52 am

Robin Swann is languorous,Robin Swann is languorous……………..