The Northern Ireland Department of Health has outlined its long-term plan for ensuring there are enough doctors and other healthcare staff working in the NHS by 2026.
Strategies include bringing in ‘non-salary incentives’ to attract or retain staff in less popular locations and specialities to reduce reliance on locums, and proposals to improve job flexibility and work-life balance.
And closer monitoring of workforce ‘gaps’ is needed, particularly in the primary care workforce where there are plans to make wider use of multidisciplinary teams to take pressure off GPs, it said.
The report – which covers all health and social care staff – highlighted that demand for GP services had increased dramatically over the past decade with a 76% rise between 2004 and 2014 in consultations and a 217% rise in test results being dealt with.
GPs – 39% of whom are aged 50 or over – increasingly want to work part-time or have portfolio careers and anecdotally there is preference for salaried positions.
It points out that for some GPs, the job has become undoable with too much to do in too little time.
And states that while there are proposals to make greater use of other healthcare staff in primary care, premises infrastructure is a ‘real barrier’.
In order to transform healthcare in Northern Ireland ‘we need to resolve fundamental problems with supply, recruitment and retention of the health and social care workforce’, the report states.
A review of training places is due to conclude this summer and new physician assistant roles will be in place by 2020, the report says.
It was recently announced that GPs in Northern Ireland will receive funding to implement multidisciplinary teams in practices as part of a £15m cash injection.
BMA Northern Ireland chair Dr John Woods said the strategies outlined in report could help address serious problems among the medical workforce.
‘The pressure healthcare staff are under on a daily basis cannot be overstated and reducing this pressure is central to making the health and social care sector somewhere people want to work.
‘The plans to develop multidisciplinary teams, address staff health and well-being and improve occupational health are welcome but it needs to be coupled with a reduction in waiting lists, pay parity and more staff on the ground.’
He added: ‘With a plan in place the Department must now make sure there is a budget allocated to it and that it is fully implemented.’