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NI GPC lead warns Government to work ‘with or against’ GPs

Northern Irish GPC chair Dr Tom Black will warn politicians to work ‘with or against’ GPs, as general practice in the country continues to move towards potential mass resignation from the NHS.

Speaking today at the annual LMCs Conference in Edinburgh, Dr Black will say that – in light of the collapse of power-sharing agreement in Northern Ireland in January – GPs have learned that ‘the only thing worse than having politicians is having no politicians’.

He will say this comes as general practice in Northern Ireland needs urgent attention, including an additional £120m in funding to bring it level to what NHS England is providing via the GP Forward View.

He will tell delegates: ‘The healthcare system in Northern Ireland needs reform, and plans for reform were agreed before Christmas with civil servants and the previous health minister. 

‘Unfortunately we have since suffered a collapse of our political structures and we have no Assembly, no Executive and no budget. We have found that the only thing worse than having politicians is having no politicians.  

‘We need to see an investment in general practice of an additional £120m to bring us up to the level of spending in the GP Forward View.’

It comes as GPC chair Dr Chaand Napaul used his conference speech to warn that the GP Forward View is not a sufficient rescue package, and told British politicians they must end their ‘callous disregard’ for the pressure GPs are under.

It also comes as GP leaders have warned there is no rescue in sight for 20 GP practices in Northern Ireland, which could all be forced to close this year, representing around 6% of all practices.

And Dr Black will go on to stress that GPs in Northern Ireland have been pushed into their current position.

He will say: ‘Let me be crystal clear; GPs in Northern Ireland are imbued with the values and principles of the NHS and do not want to leave the NHS to adopt private practice provision.  

‘GPs in Northern Ireland want to stay and work in the NHS in a system where patients receive a universal service, free at the point of need, funded by taxation.’

According to Dr Black, GPs in Northern Ireland want to offer their cooperation to put in place the plans that were agreed before Christmas but that should this fail, they will ‘leave the NHS to protect and preserve a high-quality service for our community’.

He will conclude: ‘These are difficult and dangerous times fraught with risks and challenges. On behalf of NIGPC let me throw down this challenge to the incoming minister for health in Northern Ireland: work with us or work against us.

‘Your choice, but be clear – we will protect the GP service for patients in Northern Ireland at all costs even if this means leaving the NHS.’

Earlier this month, Dr Black told Pulse that the GPC in Northern Ireland is currently ‘finalising’ its so-called Plan B, which will lay out the details on charging for appointments and around staff, pensions and indemnity once GPs are outside the NHS.

But he warned that the closures of practices and no current government in Northern Ireland may mean that general practice will ‘collapse’ altogether before the required 60% of practice resignations are collected.

The LMCs Conference will vote on a motion today that says ‘The people of Northern Ireland have been seriously let down by the failure to invest in general practice and demands that the top priority of any incoming government for Northern Ireland must be to invest in general practice by at least the equivalent investment that has been made in England, Scotland and Wales’.