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30,000 patients sign petition to save general practice

Patients have strongly shown their support for general practice by signing a petition in their thousands urging the Government to ensure its survival.

More than 30,000 people backed calls to invest in general practice in Northern Ireland, train more GPs and reduce bureaucracy after the BMA placed the petitions in practices across the country.

It comes just two weeks after GPs in the country were asked sign undated letters of resignation, amid ever-increasing pressures.

Handing the signatures into the Northern Ireland Assembly, Committee for Health chair Paula Bradley MLA said general practice was the bedrock of every community and the first point of contact for 90% of health and social care needs but was in crisis.

‘This petition calls on the minister for health to ensure the survival of general practice throughout Northern Ireland by investing 10% of the Northern Ireland Healthcare budget on safe, sustainable GP service for patients; increase the number of training posts to 111 and reduce bureaucracy in order to allow more time to be spent providing care for patients,’ she told the Assembly.

It comes as ministers are expected to make an announcement on funding and their vision for health and social care in Northern Ireland later this month.

The petition, which was available to sign for six weeks, was launched after a report from BMA Northern Ireland revealed the extent of the crisis facing general practice.

 It found that 74% of practices across the country were struggling and nearly 10% ‘barely coping’, due to growing list sizes, staff shortages and excessive paper work.

Some areas are being hit worse than others with the more significant problems in County Fermanagh where three out of four practices are now at risk of closure due to workforce and workload issues. 

In Northern Ireland, general practice currently receives just 5% of the health budget and has 2,000 patients per average whole-time equivalent GP – the worst ratio anywhere in the UK.

Dr Arnie McDowell, Northern Ireland GPC member, said to collect 30,000 signatures in just six weeks is testament to how much value patients place on general practice.

‘We’re overwhelmed and delighted by the support we’ve received and it gives us great heart that the public is backing our calls for immediate action to save general practice in Northern Ireland.’

He added: ‘We cannot stress enough that the minister of health needs to act on this now. The majority of rural practices in Northern Ireland are at serious risk of closure due to workforce and workload issues.

‘However the depth of the crisis is now such that larger practices in more urban areas are also at increasing risk.’

He said ensuring patients have a responsive, safe and sustainable general practice service was a ‘matter of urgency’.

Dr John O’Kelly, chair of RCGP Northern Ireland said over 30,000 patient voices cannot be ignored.

‘Patients and families across the region are feeling the impacts of underfunding and poor workforce planning in general practice.’

He added they had been calling on the Health Minister to address the significant problems and invest properly in primary care.

‘General practice is inadequately resourced, and despite warning of an impending crisis for several years and calling on the government to take action.’