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Northern Irish general practice ‘will collapse’ before resignations collected

General practice in Northern Ireland is likely to collapse before the GPC collects enough undated resignations to walk away from the NHS, GP leaders have warned.

Speaking with Pulse, GPC Northern Ireland chair Dr Tom Black said that LMC leaders were warning of practices across the country on the brink of collapse at a committee meeting last week.

The Northern Ireland GPC is currently collecting resignations from GPs, with the aim of stepping outside the NHS when they receive resignations from 60% of whole practices.

Dr Black said that the GPC was ‘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.

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

The whole of Northern Ireland is facing major practice closures, Dr Black said, including:

  • ’Multiple’ practices at risk of closure in Belfast where LMC leaders reported similar pressures to those long seen in rural areas;
  • Co Fermanagh is in a perilous state after the closure of a number of practices in recent weeks with half expected to go within the year;
  • And there is concern for Portadown, where it had been predicted the whole town could be left without a GP after a domino effect caused by the closure of a 5,200 patient practice in January.

The situation in Portadown had been helped by a restriction on patients moving practices, but that had recently been removed, Dr Black said.

‘There was a block on any transfers between practices [in Portadown] but that has been lifted so there is concern now that struggling practices may be destabilised further’, Dr Black said.

In January the GPC began to collect undated resignations after 97% voted to back the move which could see GPs leave the NHS and begin to charge for appointments.

‘There are lots of resignations coming in every week,’ said Dr Black who sent a newsletter last week to encourage practices to finalise them.

‘It is difficult for practices because they have to get all the GPs in their practice to sign and then get it checked by the lawyers.’

The goal has always been that once 60% of resignations are received the BMA will begin the process of stepping outside the NHS.

But the fast deterioration of general practice amidst political standstill with no government to implement or fund the GP Future Plan which was signed off in December means it is likely to come to a head before the critical mass of resignations are in, Dr Black said.

‘The general view of the meeting was that the collapse of general practice will happen before we get to the 60% of resignations.’

‘There are multiple collapses going on,’ he said.