Northern Ireland’s GPs are facing a crisis says a new report from the British Medical Association (BMA).
The report, General Practice in Crisis – a report on primary care in Northern Ireland, says 74% of practices in Northern Ireland are “struggling” while nearly 10% are “barely coping”.
The findings are the result of growing list sizes, increasing use of locums and an increasing demand on emails and correspondence.
Between 2003/04 and 2013/14 the report notes that administrate workload in general practice has increased by 115%, while consultation rates of nurses in general practice has risen by 66%.
In light of this the BMA is calling for “a maximum number of patients that GPs, nurses and other primary care professionals can reasonably care for during a working day to maintain the delivery of safe and high quality care”.
In addition the BMA wants to see “immediate resources” to fund an expanded primary care team to reduce workload, including advance nurse practitioners.
Dr Tom Black, chair of BMA Northern Ireland’s general practitioners committee, said: “We knew the situation was bad, but the research showed clearly that primary care here is on the edge of a full blown crisis.
“GPs all across Northern Ireland reported problems, but the situation was particularly bad for smaller, single handed and rural practices that have fewer GPs working in them and who are struggling to fill vacancies.”
The report said that half of practices expected a GP to retire in the next two to five years, with the practices that were considered to be “barely coping” reporting this more frequently.
Furthermore, the study found that practices under more strain were finding it harder to take annual leave than practices that reported “no real problems”.
Black added: “We must find ways of securing general practice in the short term and evolve to a modern, sustainable model of general practice for the future to allow us to provide a service that meets the needs of patients.
“The actions we have outlined if implemented will go some way to address the crisis facing general practice.
“This is a matter of urgency to not only rescue general practice, but to ensure that patients in Northern Ireland have a responsive, safe and sustainable general practice service that they know will be there when they need it.”