This site is intended for health professionals only

Northern Ireland GPs urged not to hand back contracts amid ‘encouraging’ negotiations

Northern Ireland GPs urged not to hand back contracts amid ‘encouraging’ negotiations

GPs in Northern Ireland have been urged to hold off on handing back their NHS contracts as current negotiations between the BMA and the Government have shown ‘definite encouraging signs’.

The latest two surgeries to hand back their contract were Annagh and Waterside Medical Practices, both within Portadown Health Centre, who announced their decision last week and will cease to provide services on 31 August.

BMA Northern Ireland GP committee chair Dr Alan Stout said this ‘fresh wave’ of GP contract hand-backs was ‘worrying’ and told practices to ‘not to anything hasty just yet’.  

He said: ‘We are right in the middle of contract negotiations and there are some definite encouraging signs. Try not to do anything hasty just yet.’

The talks come following two years of a political void in Northern Ireland, during which there were no ministers or Executive, and civil servants were only able to make decisions in line with previous policy.

But a power-sharing agreement was finally reached in late January and a health minister appointed, with the GPCNI saying ‘one of the very early tasks’ must be GP contract negotiations.

Dr Stout told Pulse that that the committee is ‘actively in negotiations at the moment’ and that the discussions ‘are good’ and ‘we are likely to see positive movement’.

He added: ‘We’re keen that practices see what is offered eventually which may prevent some hand-backs, but we’re realistic that it might not prevent them all.’

Pulse reported last year that close to one in 20 Northern Irish GP practices had handed back their contracts in just one year.

And Portadown had been particularly badly affected by problems as far back as 2016, when Pulse reported that a ‘whole town’ could be left without general practice.

Following the latest contract hand-backs, health minister Robin Swann was asked in parliament by Member of the Northern Ireland Assembly for Upper Bann Jonathan Buckley ‘what assurances about continuity of care provision’ he could give, and added that the hand-backs ‘caused much concern’.

The minister confirmed that the negotiations are currently ongoing and that the aim is to ‘promote stability’.

He said: ‘My department is working with our colleagues in GPNI and the British Medical Association committee on what can be done to stabilise those positions and look to the future of the GP contract.

‘I want to ensure that our general medical services contract is fit for future purpose and can better meet the changing environment and context of primary care.

‘Discussions with the Northern Ireland general practitioners committee on the 2024/25 GMS contract and beyond are ongoing. My aim is that the negotiations promote stability in our general medical services.’

In October, the Northern Ireland BMA GP Committee voted in favour of a major renegotiation of the GP contract, outside of the normal cycle for talks, to help practices stave off closures.

No talks had been planned for a major renegotiation, but the Northern Ireland GPC said that a new contract was needed, with the chair of the committee telling Pulse that this one ‘is not working’.

In November, Northern Ireland’s GP Committee said it will ‘fully explore’ whether industrial action is an option for GP partners, following a vote at the country’s LMC conference. 



Please note, only GPs are permitted to add comments to articles

David Jarvis 6 March, 2024 6:14 pm

Strikes me if you have had enough then hand back your contract. 1. look after yourself because the powers that be really really don’t care about you one bit. 2. It might strengthen the negotiations for others where as hanging on doesn’t. 3. Who really believes jam tomorrow from those in charge. They speak one thing but their actions tell a much more toxic intent.
I see a good practice in Nottingham has just pulled the plug.