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We need urgent action for general practice in Northern Ireland

The general practice landscape is in turmoil and there is no avoiding it. We only need to reflect on the dismal situation unfolding in Portadown to get an understanding of the pressures facing the GP profession and the difficulties facing patients. And the sad reality is that this is not an isolated incident – pressures are being felt by GP practices right across Northern Ireland.

Urgent action and investment is needed now

Time and time again, we see the same recurring Ws: workload, workforce and waiting lists. The true value of general practice and of our whole health service is crystal clear in times of challenge. Patients are crying out for their local primary care services to be adequately supported and made sustainable for the future. GPs provide a vital service in every community and the risk of losing this is frightening for individuals and families.

The time for change is now. We must see transparency around the actions being taken by the Department of Health and the Health and Social Care Board to support practices on the brink of collapse. We need the government to recognise what they have and not risk losing it. It is time to take advantage of the opportunities that have been given to us. The Bengoa report, Health and Wellbeing 2016, and the GP-led Working Group report represent the wisdom of years of collective experience. Let’s not waste it.

General practitioners have tried for many years to continue to provide the same general service to the population while coping with the additional layers of advancing medical, pharmaceutical, administrative and technological change – we cope and we have always done what we can to manage whatever is thrown at us. Until now. There is only so much that we can manage – in 2016, we already witnessed closing practices and recruitment issues especially in rural areas. General practice is at breaking point. The challenge to our politicians is to actively support general practice, to acquire a fuller understanding of what we do and how we can be supported to fulfil the challenges.

Before Christmas, health minister Michelle O’Neill accepted the recommendations of the GP-led working group report and has made her commitment to general practice clear. But promises are not enough. We are calling on the minister to make her support for general practice – and commitment to ‘work with all parties’ to implement the recommendations of the recent GP-led working group – a reality. Urgent action and investment is needed now.

We are committed to working with the Government and with key stakeholders to ensure that general practice is sustainable for the future and patients in Northern Ireland get the local services that they deserve.