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Practices to be asked to quit NHS in New Year

Exclusive GP leaders in Northern Ireland will be asking for practice resignations in January after receiving overwhelming support from GPs during a series of meetings around the country.

The chair of GPC Northern Ireland, Dr Tom Black, has told Pulse that the GPC is ‘clear’ that it has to go through with its plans in January, adding that whole practices would resign from the NHS under the plans.

The GPC is still working on its ‘Plan B’, which is likely to involve GPs leaving the NHS and charging patients directly for their services as currently happens in the Republic of Ireland.

At the latest GPs in crisis meeting in Fermanagh on the 29 November, 92% of those attending said they were willing to sign up to undated resignations, following similar levels of support seen in Belfast and Armagh.

But because GPs are contractors and not NHS employees, the next step would have to be to ask whole practices to resign their contract – something which GPC is now planning to do next month.

Dr Tom Black, GPC Northern Ireland chair, told Pulse: ‘It is becoming clear and evident from the support we have had we need to move forward in the New Year to ask for practice resignations.

‘I expect that to happen towards the end of January,’ he added.

Alternative contract structures are being worked out by a Plan B sub-committee who are looking at how general practice could work if not provided by the NHS.

Dr Black said: ‘The most likely option will be a service similar to that seen in Southern Ireland.’

The situation in Northern Ireland has reached a critical point in recent months with the threat of whole towns losing their GPs and out of hours services failing to provide proper cover.

General practice receives just 5.5% of the health budget – the lowest level anywhere in the UK.

Health Minister Michelle O’Neill announced radical plans for the overhaul of the health service in October, including proposals for practice-based pharmacists for every surgery as well as a named social worker, health visitor and district nurse.

But the 10-year plan based on the Bengoa review, which described the system as being at ‘breaking point’, has yet to be costed and no specific funding announcement has been made.

Dr Black said: ‘We’re still waiting for the Government to fund general practice along the lines of the GP Forward View.

‘We are expecting an offer within the next three months but we still haven’t had anything with a number on it,’ he added. ‘So we have no choice given the crisis in general practice but to go ahead with practice resignations at this point.’

Dr Black said GPs in the country were in the worst position for 50 years.

‘We have no alternative but to leave the NHS.’

The last two ‘GP in crisis’ meetings being held by the BMA in Northern Ireland will take place in the next fortnight.

What are GPs in England doing about mass resignations?

The GPC in England announced in August that it would not ballot members on potentially submitting undated resignations or industrial action after claiming that it has won concessions on workload from NHS England.

Instead of a ballot, the GPC this autumn surveyed members ‘for their views on future negotiations with the Government’.

The GPC said GP ‘reluctance’ over the plan was also a reason for calling off plans, but Pulse has since revealed that some LMCs are drawing up explosive ‘plan B’ alternatives of their own.

Pulse’s recent survey of 1,000 GPs also showed that half of GP partners are willing to resign the NHS and go private.