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Petition calls for more money for primary care

300,000 signature petition calls for general practice to receive 11% of NHS budget

Mark Gould

Monday, 24 November 2014

Over 300,000 signatures will be presented to the Northern Ireland Assembly today calling for a bigger share of the NHS budget for general practice.

The petition was launched as part of the Put patients first: Back General Practice campaign between the Royal College of General Practitioners (RCGP) and the National Association for Patient Participation and it collected signatures across the UK from patients, GPs and their practice colleagues. Some 16,208 signatures were collected from Northern Ireland alone, the highest number per population across the UK.

The petition comes at a time when general practice is approaching crisis point. In Northern Ireland, general practice receives only 8.3% of the health budget, despite carrying out over 90% of all health contacts. The petition calls on the Northern Ireland Executive to increase the share of the NHS budget spent on general practice to 11% by 2017.

This shift in funding would enable general practice to deliver shorter waiting times for appointments and more flexible opening hours, longer consultations, better continuity of care and positive benefits for the NHS as a whole, reducing pressure on hospitals.

The RCGP NI Chair, Dr John O’Kelly, warned: “We are approaching a perfect storm in general practice. Funding for general practice has dropped by £21.20 million from 2008/09 to 2012/13, a percentage decrease of 8.22%. In the past year alone, GP activity has increased by 7% and this is having a significant impact on patient waiting times.

“The situation looks set to get worse unless the government urgently acts. Northern Ireland already has the lowest GP coverage in the UK at only 6.4 GPs per 10,000 population. Added to this, we also have the oldest GP workforce in the UK as almost one quarter of GPs are over 55 years old.

“Every patient should be able to get an appointment with their GP or practice nurse when they want and need one. GPs are working harder than ever to try and meet the demand and provide the type of care which patients deserve."

And the RCGP says the pressure which GPs are under is beginning to take a toll on patients. In a ComRes opinion poll carried out for the RCGP, more than three in five people (63%) believed that the numbers of patient consultations which GPs conducted each day – reckoned to be between 40-60 consultations in a majority of cases – is a threat to the standard of care they can provide to patients. More than a third (37%) also said they were concerned that the amount of time they had to wait for an appointment to see their GP could have an impact on their health. Over half of adults (52%) believed that waiting times to see their GP would get longer in the next two years.

“All these statistics show that waiting times need to be addressed and that the situation is set to get even worse. Even more worrying is that some patients may decide to not seek treatment because of worries around appointment waiting lists, meaning that GPs could be missing opportunities of detecting illnesses at an early stage or preventing them happening in the first place," Dr O'Kelly added.

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