GP leaders in Northern Ireland says they will take legal steps to protect GP practices from being compelled to take on patients from neighbouring surgeries that have closed.
GPC Northern Ireland chair Dr Tom Black, said he would take ‘firm legal measures’ to prevent already struggling practices being forced to take on additional patients because ‘we cannot allow a precedent to be set’.
It comes amid fears that practices in Portadown could be left facing a ‘domino effect’ if a new contractor is not found for a 5,200-patient practice that was left with no GPs.
The Bannview Medical Centre lost all four of its GPs in quick succession. Currently being run ad hoc by locums, an advert has been put out for a GP contractor to take over but the BMA said it is not looking hopeful.
Six other practices based in the same health centre are in no position to take on 1,000 patients each as they too are ‘teetering on the brink’, Southern LMC had warned.’
Dr Black said: ‘As of yesterday there was still no contractor so we have no willing provider and no GPs for 5,200 patients. Health boards are spending a lot of money trying to find providers but there is no appetite to take on contracts.’
He said the BMA is concerned that the Health and Social Care Board will decide the best way to deal with the situation is to allocate the patients to other practices. But he said: ‘We would be very firm in our view that we would protect those practices from forced allocations.’
Dr Black added that legally it was complex but they had already looked at the issue in detail with their lawyers. ‘We are confident we could protect practices and we would take firm legal measures to protect practices,’ he said.
The Health and Social Care Board said it is currently in discussions with a potential provider for the Bannview contract. A spokesperson said: ‘This is still ongoing and we are not in a position to confirm the outcome of these discussions yet.’
A series of crisis meetings held by the BMA in Northern Ireland in recent weeks found that the overwhelming majority of GPs said they are willing to begin the process of leaving the health service to force the Government to act to rescue the crisis-hit service.
The GPC is planning to go ahead with asking GP practices across Northern Ireland to resign their contracts unless a rescue package can be agreed with the Department of Health in time for the next GPC meeting on 25 January.
The GPC is calling on the Northern Irish minister for health to ensure the survival of general practice by investing 10% of the healthcare budget on a safe, sustainable GP service for patients.
Without these urgent rescue measures, general practice is likely to collapse, it has warned.
Domino effect threatening general practice
Portadown is not the only town in the UK that GP leaders fear is one practice closure away from general practice collapse.
In the town, which has a population of 35,000, all of the practices have closed their lists to new patients amid an inability to recruit GPs to cope with workload pressures.
And, earlier this month, it was still touch and go whether NHS England would find a new provider for the 7,000-patient Field House Surgery, that was due to close on New Year’s Eve.
In the end, it was rescued at the eleventh hour as Humber NHS Foundation Trust stepped in to take on the running of the practice. However, this is only an interim contract and NHS England has declined to tell Pulse of the financial arrangements in place.
With the BMA’s recent survey of over 3,500 GPs showing that a third of practices have struggled to recruit for the last 12 months, NHS leaders are in a race against time to solve the workforce crisis.