Northern Ireland needs more GPs to cut spiralling waiting lists, and to enable family doctors to spend more time with patients, according to the Royal College of General Practitioners in Northern Ireland (RCGPNI).
Coinciding with the launch of its first action plan, 'Delivering change for general practice: A strategy for improving patient care in Northern Ireland', the RCGPNI has said there is a growing crisis facing general practice in Northern Ireland due to a shortage of GPs.
The action plan highlights a number of actions required to address the problems, caused by increasing patient demand due to a growing and ageing population and the number of patients presenting with multiple, long-term conditions, both physical and mental.
This is compounded by a chronic shortage of GPs and an ageing workforce; nearly 25% are aged 55 or over and not enough medical graduates are being trained in general practice to replace them.
Building on its Put patients first: Back general practice campaign, in the action plan RCGPNI has set out a number of actions that must be taken by the government to strengthen general practice for the future. These include:
- Growing the GP workforce by 400 over the next five years
- Empowering innovation
- Developing the general practice team
- Giving GPs more time to focus on patient care
- Improving GP premises.
However, the RCGPNI has said this can only be achieved through on-going and sustained investment in general practice.
Dr John O’Kelly, Chair of RCGPNI, said: “This document outlines a series of immediate measures, as well as medium to long-term plans.
“As a matter of priority, I urge the Northern Ireland Government to increase the number of GPs being trained by the Northern Ireland Medical and Dental Training Agency Queen’s University Belfast from 65 to 111. An increase in the number of GPs will help deal with rising demand and allow more time to be spent with patients. Five or 10 minutes is not sufficient, especially for patients who have multiple and increasingly complex conditions.
“General practice has a key role in leading the development of new models of care. We call for investment in the wider practice team. Health and social care services must be integrated around the lives of patients and carers, and people need to be involved in decisions around their own health and wellbeing.
“We also have to expand and develop the general practice nurse workforce along with the wider general practice team, which will help take pressure off GPs. This is essential if more care is to be delivered in the community.
“GPs ask that the Government works with us to invest in general practice so that we can give all our patients the compassionate care they need and deserve.”
A copy of 'Delivering change for general practice: A strategy for improving patient care in Northern Ireland’ can be accessed via the RCGP’s website