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Huge hospital waits add to GPs’ workload, warns top GP

New RCGP NI chair says some patients face up to five years’ wait for surgery so feel they must pay for private healthcare

Louise Prime

Wednesday, 27 November 2019

Soaring waiting lists for hospital care in Northern Ireland are putting increasing strain on a general practice already under unprecedented pressure as well as leading many patients to feel they have no other option than to pay privately for healthcare, a lead GP has warned.

The Royal College of General Practitioners in Northern Ireland (RCGPNI) pointed out that the number of people waiting for their first appointment with a consultant following GP referral has risen by 8.5% – an increase of 23,500 people – over the past year alone, and has almost reached 300,000, according to recent official data from the Department of Health. Furthermore, the RCGPNI noted, the Nuffield Trust reported this summer that “a person in Northern Ireland is at least 48 times as likely as a person in Wales to wait more than a year for care” even though Wales is “the worst performer otherwise in the UK”.

RCGPNI’s new chair Dr Laurence Dorman warned last night that these delays for treatment, as well as practice closures and increasing demand, are putting a “huge strain” on general practice services as GPs must continue to provide care for thousands of patients waiting for treatment.

Dr Dorman said: “GPs are the first point of contact for patients and the increasing waiting list for specialist services are putting huge strain on our services. While waiting for specialist services patients rely on their GP to review their condition and perform essential tasks such as medication management and blood test monitoring.”

Dr Dorman added that he was concerned that because patients now have to wait for up to five years for their operations, some believe they have “no option” other than to resort to Northern Ireland’s private health care system. But the Kilkeel GP warned that those patients who cannot afford to pay privately for their healthcare are at risk of being “left behind”.

He said: “Many patients feel they have no option other than to purchase private medical care, which risks leaving behind patients who are unable to afford it, and increasing our health inequalities further. It also risks patients accessing investigations and investigations such as scans which are unnecessary and could be avoided if they had access to good comprehensive NHS care.

“Transformation of how health is delivered has started in Northern Ireland and RCGPNI is very proactive in showing how general practice can be part of the solution to help deliver better care for patients. Our Vision Document – Support, Sustain Renew highlights the need to invest in general practice. The introduction of extra workers in GP practices, such as physiotherapists, will improve access for patients with their GP close at hand, ensuring continuity of care is maintained.”

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