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NI Government must take on indemnity costs to keep GPs, says RCGP report

NI Government must take on indemnity costs to keep GPs, says RCGP report

A state-backed GP indemnity scheme should be launched in Northern Ireland to help retain GPs, the RCGP has recommended.

In a report published today, the college called on the Department of Health to ‘urgently’ address the issue of indemnity ‘to keep GPs working in general practice’.

The report outlined retention challenges experienced by the profession in Northern Ireland and proposed short to medium-term recommendations to help address the workload burden.

The RCGP pointed out that Northern Ireland is the only part of the UK that does not have some form of state-backed indemnity scheme, making it more expensive for GPs to work there.

Due to this, GPs working at surgeries in Northern Ireland have to pay fees of up to around £10,000 a year for a full-time GP.

The college added that despite a commitment by the Minister for Health in the previous mandate to have addressed this issue by November 2022, a state-backed scheme has not yet materialised.

‘This is particularly relevant for early career GPs and those who are not from Northern Ireland and therefore are likely to look elsewhere for work, given the poorer terms and conditions and an effective tax on salary in the form of indemnity costs,’ the report added.

The report also recommended that the Department of Health commission a practitioner health programme to support clinicians in crisis across Northern Ireland, and invest in GP fellowship programmes as well as support for practices at risk of contract hand-back.

There should be special support for GPs and practices around recruiting staff who require a health and care worker visa, the college added.

The Department of Health should also ensure that practices in areas of contract instability are not further disadvantaged ‘by having to compete for locum cover’ with Trust-run practices offering ‘hugely inflated’ fees for sessional work.

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RCGP Northern Ireland chair Dr Ursula Mason, a GP in Carryduff, said that there is a need to provide ‘tailored interventions’ to make working as a GP in Northern Ireland ‘more attractive’.

She said: ‘We know that general practice needs investment in a sustainable funding model and a properly enacted and resourced workforce plan in the long-term, but there are actions that could be taken in the short to medium-term that would make a real difference.

‘We need to provide tailored interventions to make working as a GP in Northern Ireland more attractive across all career stages.

‘We need a practitioner health programme to support clinicians in crisis amid increasing rates of burnout.

‘We need tangible interventions addressing the burden of workload in general practice, to improve the efficiency and safety of our services, and the provision of support for practices at risk of collapse.

‘Ultimately, improving the retention of our GP workforce is about keeping general practice afloat and able to provide the safe, effective, and person-centred care which all our patients need and deserve.’

Health minister Robin Swann said: ‘General practice is widely acknowledged as the bedrock of health and social care. In the face of the ongoing significant budgetary challenges and constraints facing my department, I am committed to building the GP workforce, attracting and recruiting new GPs as well as retaining experienced GPs.

‘The department is working with GPs to help general practice to deliver, to grow and to be in the vanguard of how we transform health and social care for our population and for our workforce.’

Earlier this month, GPs were told that clinical negligence indemnity cover for work done out of hours in Northern Ireland will be withdrawn.

And around one in three GP practices across Northern Ireland sought ‘crisis support’ over the last four years, according to the country’s public spending watchdog.