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One in ten Northern Irish GP practices at risk of closure

One in ten Northern Irish GP practices at risk of closure

Around 30 GP practices in Northern Ireland are at risk of closure and are receiving recovery support, the RCGP has warned.

Last year, the BMA said that 22 practices were accessing support from a regional crisis team designed to support GP practices in developing recovery plans. 

A number of those practices have now closed – however, despite this, the list of practices in recovery mode has grown significantly.

RCGPNI chair Dr Ursula Mason said this number is now likely closer to 30, which is almost 10% of the total 318 practices in Northern Ireland.

The College also recently made a joint statement with other healthcare leaders in Northern Ireland saying general practice ‘is at risk of total destabilisation’. 

In February, a practice with 7,600 patients handed back its contract, making it the 13th to do so in the past year, and the third in County Fermanagh since last summer. 

In response to this, Dr Mason said: ‘We have been warning that general practice in Northern Ireland faces a real risk of destabilisation, on a scale not previously known. 

‘Regrettably, we are seeing this manifest itself in practices making the difficult decision to hand back their contracts.’

She added: ‘Alarm bells are now ringing off the scale. GPs know we are in the midst of a crisis but we need this to be urgently recognised across the system so that real solutions that safeguard the future of general practice can be implemented immediately.’ 

Several other practices in the region have handed back their contracts in recent months, including Ballymena and Fermanagh.

The Practice Improvement and Crisis Response team in Northern Ireland provides ‘managerial support at short notice for practices at high risk or in a crisis’. 

Last week, Northern Irish Royal Colleges made a joint statement expressing ‘serious concern and frustration at the state of the health service across Northern Ireland’. 

It said: ‘Our health service is on the verge of collapse. Our waiting lists are intolerably long and escalating, emergency departments are overwhelmed, general practice is at risk of total destabilisation, and children are suffering as a result of paediatric waiting lists.’

Highlighting the difficulties around having no Government or Assembly at Stormont, they added: ‘As health service leaders, we are determined to continue to work together in the best interests of our staff and the patients we serve, but we are extremely concerned at the state of our health service. 

‘We need action to prevent total collapse. The cost of failure is too severe to contemplate.’

There were 318 GP practices in Northern Ireland in December last year, down from 333 in December 2018.