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‘Truly frightening’ GP workforce problems in all Northern Ireland regions

Failing practices and a shortage of GPs are some of the ‘truly frightening’ challenges now facing the profession across all parts of Northern Ireland, the chair of the country’s GP committee has said.

In a speech today at the UK’s LMC conference in Belfast, Northern Ireland’s BMA GPC chair Dr Alan Stout said waiting lists of over four years for some specialties, delayed discharge, and problems with social care were also all mounting.

Around six months ago, most regions outside of Belfast were struggling – but now the capital city itself is under pressure too, which is ‘the most concerning’ as ‘we always knew Belfast would be the last to suffer,’ said Dr Stout.

He said: ‘It would be far too easy for me to go through all the problems in Northern Ireland, and we have many problems.

‘Waiting lists, over four years in some specialities according to the latest figures, and over two years in most.

‘Delayed discharges and issues with social care and the demographic challenges that we are all familiar with – and most relevant to today, failing practices, particularly as a result of simply a lack of GPs and the workforce crisis.’

He added: ‘This is truly frightening and we are dealing with multiple problems in multiple areas at the moment.

‘Six months ago, just about anywhere outside of Belfast was struggling – and now we are seeing significant issues inside Belfast too and this is the most concerning as we always knew Belfast would be the last to suffer.

‘If you take any promotional material for Northern Ireland, with the beautiful views and beautiful countryside, you can almost guarantee that that area can’t attract GPs.’

However Dr Stout went on to stress that despite the country not having a government in place, some progress was being made.

LMCs and the GPC had been working ‘extremely hard’ to help practices – which had led to all GPs being included within a federation, he said.

In addition, he noted there had been ‘significant investment’ in general practice from the country’s Department of Health, which has continued to operate despite the absence of a government.

Practices are beginning to have access to a funded full-time pharmacist, which is ‘starting to show real benefits in terms of safety and quality and freeing GP time’ he added.

Meanwhile, fully-funded multi-disciplinary primary care teams – including physiotherapists, mental health workers, social workers and advanced nurse practitioners – are being introduced into practices, he said.