11 June 2020

Primary Care Voices Essential in Government Rebuild Plans Say RCGPNI

GPs in Northern Ireland have played an amazing role throughout this pandemic and like others working in our healthcare system from domestic care right through to intensive care should be commended for their bravery and commitment.

As part of the overall primary care response to COVID-19 GPs stepped up to work in the COVID Assessment Centres in NI as a means of separating patients with Covid-19 symptoms from those with non-COVID symptoms in our surgeries.

To that regard, the Centres worked extremely well with only a small percentage of patients seen at the Covid Assessment Centres moved on towards secondary care, therefore easing pressures on our health service at a time of crisis.

As the numbers presenting in the Centres decreases it isn't sustainable or right to maintain high levels of staffing and associated resources, so we do anticipate some changes to their current arrangement. Any alterations to the GMS contract and negotiations around any possible GP contract changes rests with NIGPC/BMA NI and not RCGPNI. 

Strategic decisions regarding the reshaping of Northern Ireland's Health and Social Care (HSC) system rest with elected politicians and the devolved institutions at Stormont.

The Health Minister Robin Swann announced major changes coming to our HSC today (9 June 2020). The Minister's focus is on rebuilding the health system which was struggling even before the pandemic hit with unacceptable waiting lists for secondary care referrals and emergency departments filled with patients on trolleys. 

Change is coming but it needs resourced and supported for those that lie at the heart of providing patient centred care in the community.
We also sincerely hope that any changes will improve the patient journey because improving their experience is crucial.

GPs will play a part in that transformation and are keen to interface better with secondary care colleagues. GPs support 80% of all patient contacts in NI and we would argue that switching services 'back on' requires a twin track approach with both primary and secondary care professions. Both need to switch back on at the same pace and both need to hold that same degree of confidence that patients will be better supported.

GPs are the bedrock of the NI health system, and although we saw a significant drop in patient numbers during the pandemic, we are seeing that flow return. GPs and their teams are trusted members of our health system and they continue to deliver high quality care for their patients, who have known us for years and trust us so well. 

Any changes to our health and social care system must take into account the pressures which GPs on the ground are facing. The profession was already strained before COVID-19 arrived. If change is to be successful, GPs must be included at the heart of the decision making process to ensure a smooth and safe transition.

Further Information
Áine Magee
Policy and Public Affairs Officer RCGPNI
Mobile 07341 737 033

The Royal College of General Practitioners is a network of more than 53,000 family doctors working to improve care for patients. We work to encourage and maintain the highest standards of general medical practice and act as the voice of GPs on education, training, research and clinical standards. RCGPNI represents over 1400 members in Northern Ireland. Check out our updates via Twitter @rcgp_ni and Facebook.