Health Minister Robin Swann has today announced a £5.5m package of measures to help ease the pressures facing Primary Care Services across Northern Ireland.
GP services have been experiencing sustained, high levels of demand since before the pandemic, which has led to Practices adapting how they deliver services.
The £5.5m package provides targeted help to parts of the service that are most under pressure by investing £1m in a new Attract, Recruit, Retain scheme to help attract GPs in hard-to-recruit areas. It also boosts the support team for GP practices who are experiencing difficulty by an additional £680k.
In addition, it also includes investment of £3m to support practices across Northern Ireland through the winter period, giving them the capacity to provide additional in-hours sessions to help meet heightened demand through the winter; up to £800k additional investment in Out of Hours services; and a commitment to progress work to address the issue of GP Indemnity.
The Minister said:
“The pressures in Primary Care services are caused in large part by historic underinvestment over a number of years which has left the system struggling to meet ever-growing demand.
“My Department is taking action to address the root causes of these issues in service. This includes increasing the number of GP training places in Northern Ireland to an all-time high of 121 and providing an additional £1.5m investment to support continued staff recruitment to the MDT model.
“That said, there is a need to do more in the short term to help address the pressures in GP services, and ensure that people can still access their doctor when they need them. The package of support I am announcing today will help strengthen GP services through the winter period, as well as providing targeted help to those practices that are most at risk. Planning for this winter is ongoing across health and social care.
“I understand that being able to access GP services is very important for people across Northern Ireland. My Department has convened a working group to explore issues around access to services, including how technology can be better used to provide improved access for patients. An initial report from the group is anticipated in the autumn.”
Turning to the issue of indemnity costs for GPs in Northern Ireland, the Minister said:
“I recognise that arrangements for GP Indemnity are different in Northern Ireland to elsewhere in the UK. My Department is committed to completing work to identify an appropriate way forward for GP Indemnity in Northern Ireland by the end of November 2022.”
The Minister added:
“The severe budgetary challenges facing my Department have been well documented. This package forms part of the funding projections which I detailed to a meeting of MLAs last week.
“I have a duty and a responsibility to provide much-needed support to vital services, especially given the likelihood of significant winter pressures.”
Under the Attract, Recruit, Retain scheme all GP Practices in Northern Ireland would be able to apply for support to assist in attracting GPs to their area take up partnerships and/or salaried GP positions. GP Practices would have to satisfy a range of criteria in order to be eligible for a payment under this scheme, details of which will be provided to all GP practices in the coming weeks.
GPs are required to have indemnity for clinical negligence claims so that their patients can receive compensation if they are harmed by negligent care.
The Department of Health is considering a range of options for future clinical negligence indemnity provision for GPs from the status quo arrangements provided via Medical Defence Organisations to alternatives such as the state backed systems adopted in England and Wales.