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One in six practices wrote to Northern Ireland health board over workload concerns

One in six GP practices in Northern Ireland wrote to the Health and Social Care Board in 2016 to raise concerns about workforce pressures, the minister of health has told the Assembly.

In a response to a written question from West Tyrone MLA Daniel McCrossan, Michelle O’Neill said that 57 practices had written to the Board in the past 12 months about fears for staffing levels, increasing list sizes and the future sustainability of their surgeries.

Two practices – including the surgery of the new RCGP Northern Ireland chair Dr Grainne Doran – were so concerned about the worsening situation they wrote directly to the Department of Health.

Dr Doran explained they felt they had contact the Government after facing a potential 3.8% increase in practice size in a matter of weeks at the practice in the Bangor Health Centre.

‘Every new patient brings a workload associated with gaining adequate knowledge of their past medical history/drugs/existing co-morbidity/allergies/special needs etc in order to safely manage their care,’ she said

‘This requires considerable clinical and administrative time for practices already working at full capacity.

‘The practice felt the issue was not a single issue but part of a growing concern across Northern Ireland and were unable to let the situation drift without bringing it to the Minister’s attention.’

Dr Doran added that GPs across Northern Ireland were operating at maximum capacity.

‘GPs’ primary concern is the safe care to their current patient population and a sudden marked growth to GP list sizes would produce a highly unsafe level of workload.

‘This brings unacceptable anticipation of risk for current patient lists and any future patients.’

It comes as GPs in Northern Ireland prepare to tender their resignations following a series of crisis meetings by the BMA.

The GPC is planning to go ahead with asking GP practices across Northern Ireland to resign their contracts unless a rescue package can be agreed with the Department of Health in time for the next GPC meeting on 25 January.

To prevent the collapse of general practice, the GPC is calling for Ms O’Neill to invest 10% of the healthcare budget on a safe, sustainable GP service.