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NI GPs willing to leave NHS to protect services

Northern Ireland GPs prepared to quit NHS to ensure quality of primary care services

Adrian O'Dowd

Friday, 19 May 2017

GPs in Northern Ireland are prepared to quit the NHS to protect primary care services for patients, GPs were told at the BMA's annual local medical committees conference.

Dr Tom Black, chair of the BMA's Northern Ireland GP committee (NIGPC), speaking at the conference, held in Edinburgh, gave a stark ultimatum to politicians, saying they 'must work with us or work against us'.

The message comes after months of uncertainty for GPs in Northern Ireland over a proposed funding package that would help to alleviate current pressures in general practice.

Dr Black told conference delegates: 'The healthcare system in Northern Ireland needs reform, and plans for reform were agreed before Christmas with civil servants and the previous Health Minister.

'Unfortunately, we have since suffered a collapse of our political structures and we have no assembly, no executive and no budget. We have found that the only thing worse than having politicians is having no politicians.'

The country needed to see an investment in general practice of an additional £120m to bring it up to the level of spending in England's GP forward view — the agreed funding package that will lead to spending on general practice services rising from £9.6bn a year in 2015/16 to more than £12bn a year by 2020/21.

Dr Black, whose speech received a standing ovation from the GP audience, said the pressure GPs were under had pushed them to the current position, and that they would prefer to continue to work within the NHS.

'GPs in Northern Ireland are imbued with the values and principles of the NHS and do not want to leave the NHS to adopt private practice provision,' he said. 'We want to stay and work in the NHS in a system where patients receive a universal service, free at the point of need, funded by taxation.

'We will do this through the twin track approach of offering our co-operation to implement the transformation of the health service in Northern Ireland, transformation that's planned and needed, but also by preparing to leave the NHS to protect and preserve a high-quality service for our community.

'These are difficult and dangerous times fraught with risks and challenges. On behalf of NIGPC let me throw down this challenge to the incoming Minister for Health in Northern Ireland — work with us or work against us.

'We will protect the GP service for patients in Northern Ireland at all costs even if this means leaving the NHS.'

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