East Antrim MLA, Stewart Dickson, visited one of his local GP surgeries on Friday to find out more about the crisis affecting GPs in Northern Ireland, with the help of Dr Howie and the Royal College of General Practitioners in Northern Ireland (RCGPNI).
During the visit to Larne Family Practice, Mr Dickson met staff from the practice, spoke to patients, and was shown the facilities available to patients. The local Alliance MLA had the opportunity to see first-hand the vital services that are being provided by GPs and the Practice Team and heard about the pressures and challenges facing general practice in Larne and across the region.
Following the visit, Stewart Dickson MLA said: “I was delighted to meet Dr Peter Howie and his Team today. I really do thank them for showing me around the Larne Health Centre. The visit really helped me to understand and appreciate the pressures on this vital patient service. We need to invest more in general practice to protect the health and wellbeing of our communities; I will be working hard in Stormont to make sure these committed GPs and their staff can continue to support their communities in the years to come.”
Although GPs carry out 90% of the patient contacts in the NHS, they only receive 8.2% of the overall Northern Ireland health budget.
Dr Howie said: “We would like to thank Mr Dickson for visiting our surgery to find out what it’s like to provide primary care in the area. The truth is, underinvestment in general practice a lack of GPs is putting local services across Northern Ireland at risk. Our dedicated staff do so much to provide a convenient and effective service for our community, but we need more backing from government to protect GP surgeries across Northern Ireland.”
Dr John O’Kelly, Chair of RCGPNI, added: “Being a GP is a wonderful job, but a lack of resources is pushing services to the edge. Access to general practice is at risk as almost half (45%) of NI GPs are planning to either leave general practice or reduce their hours in the next five years, and 15% of family doctors believe it is unlikely or very unlikely that their current practice will be open in ten years time. In addition, 98% of GPs say that, without more resources, waiting times for appointments will increase.
“Taken together, these figures paint a worrying picture for the future of general practice and we need politicians to act now to protect our local services. A healthy general practice prevents unnecessary hospital visits, saving the NHS money and leading to a healthier and happier community.”
The College has been campaigning for more investment for GP services since 2013 and is currently inviting members of the public to join in by writing to their own MLAs using their online tool here: http://bit.ly/RCGPNI