GP services on life support

Rural areas sharpest hit by GP crisis

By Donal O’Cofaigh

Rural communities across Northern Ireland face losing their local doctors’ surgery in the next few years. The problem is severe in the Portadown area but Fermanagh has been identified by the British Medical Association as being the most heavily hit of any part of the UK, with only five of the eighteen practices currently operational likely to survive two years. This will mean patients will face extremely long waits and have to travel dozens of miles to see a doctor.

Retiring doctors are simply not being replaced. Few want to take on the personal or legal responsibilities of operating in a rural sole practice, working long hours with ever growing numbers of patients. And yet there has been complete inaction over bringing these doctors together in cooperative consortia which might address many of these concerns. There is no consideration of the best model for primary care – bringing GPs directly back into the NHS as employees.

There’s been a decade where limits on the numbers of medical places locally are less than 70% of where they would need to be to meet targets for newly qualified doctors. There is a sense among medical professionals that this crisis has been engineered as a way of delivering short-term cost reductions. Primary care services receive only 6% of health expenditure here compared to more than 10% in England. Minister after Minister has failed to take the needed actions to redress this situation.

The Save Our Surgeries campaign has been launched by labour movement activists to raise awareness of this crisis and demand action to redress it.