Northern Ireland GPC chair Dr Tom Black has had a lot to deal with this year. Despite falling investment and rising workload, the new health minister at Stormont has come up with the bright idea of following England and introducing seven-day GP access.
Earlier this year, Dr Black released figures that highlighted massive underinvestment in general practice, saying £33m of additional investment was needed to bring practice funding up to the UK average.
Two months later, there was the promise of some funding to start to redress the balance – £15m, including £10m in loans for practice premises upgrades and expansion. But Dr Black warned this would not be enough to stop NI ‘lagging behind’ the rest of the UK.
And there are intractable problems that have to be faced. Northern Ireland has more patients per GP than anywhere else in the UK and around half of NI GP trainees drop out before completing their training.
By 2016/17, health boards are expected to have devolved their budgets for community nursing, diagnostics and prescribing to GP federations.
But as Dr Black says: ‘It is only through proper and recurrent funding of general practice services and innovative new models of care, such as GP federations, that we will begin to see an improvement in the issues GPs face on a daily basis.’