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Multidisciplinary primary care teams expand in Northern Ireland

GPs say MDTs will free their time to care for people with more complex conditions and benefit practices as well as patients

Louise Prime

Wednesday, 16 October 2019

An expansion of multidisciplinary team (MDT) working in primary care across Northern Ireland will radically reform service delivery – enabling patients to access appropriate care more quickly, releasing GPs to treat people who most need their care, and reducing pressure on secondary care services, according to the Department of Health in Northern Ireland. GP leaders said the approach will free up GPs’ time to care for people with more complex conditions and benefit practices as well as patients.

Last month the department promised an extra £26.76m investment in general practice in Northern Ireland to support the continuation and acceleration of transformation projects, including the ongoing roll-out of MDTs, which allow patients to book an appointment with a first contact physiotherapist, social worker or mental health practitioner based at GP practices. And yesterday permanent secretary Richard Pengelly announced that MDTs will be available to GP federations in all five Health Trust areas as Causeway, Newry & District and West Belfast have joined the initiative launched last year with Down and Derry/Londonderry.

Up to £11.8m will be invested in the project in 2019/20 with further investment of about £25m planned in 2020/21, and there will also be additional funding for health visitors and district nursing to reduce the caseload for these staff, allowing them to spend more time with patients.

The department said the “flagship initiative” will mean that GP practices can focus on the physical, mental and social wellbeing of their local communities, not just on managing ill health.

Richard Pengelly said: “The ongoing roll-out of MDTs will help to radically reform the way services are delivered. They enable patients to receive the support they need more quickly, enabling … a greater focus on prevention and early intervention. In time this will reduce the need for referrals and pressure on our secondary care services. They will also release GPs to treat those patients who most urgently require their care.”

Dr David Ross, chair of the Eastern Federation Support Unit and chair of the Federation of Family Practices Down CIC added: “The introduction of the MDT … will enable us to offer a much wider range of treatment options to patients, in their own surgery, provided by experienced practitioners. It will allow us to develop much closer links with the community and voluntary organisations, as well as enabling GPs to devote more time to patients with more complex problems. This will fundamentally change general practice in Northern Ireland for the better. It will take time to see the full benefits, but the early signs are hugely encouraging.”

British Medical Association Northern Ireland said the announcement shows a clear commitment to the future model of provision of healthcare, despite recent well documented pressures on health care in Northern Ireland. Its GP committee chair Dr Alan Stout commented: “This new model will clearly benefit patients, but also importantly the system as a whole, by increasing capacity in primary care, supporting and sustaining practices and improving access for patients with a wide range of conditions…

“Importantly the MDT approach also frees up GP time to deal with the more complex conditions, and that is critical when we are working towards developing a sustainable model of service delivery, one that focuses on out-of-hospital care. 

“This is the second phase of a rollout that will eventually cover all areas. It is important that we retain our focus on this rollout and see it in place across Northern Ireland as soon as possible. We want all patients and GPs to have the same access to the range of care and support MDT brings.”

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