The work of General Practitioners (GPs) across the North of Ireland has become more complex and challenging due to a number of issues including; a growing and ageing population, an increase in long-term chronic conditions such as diabetes, an aging GP workforce and changing expectations of younger doctors.
There are 343 GP practices which are all independent, small businesses, often operating from their own premises, with responsibility for employing their own doctors, nurses, receptionists and healthcare assistants. The service works alongside other healthcare professionals such as district nurses, health visitors and social workers who are employed by Health and Social Care Trusts.
The Health and Social Care Board (HSCB) funds GP practices according to the numbers and types of patients registered with them and there is additional funding for other services delivered to their patients. GP partners are responsible for deciding how best to use that funding to cover the costs of recruiting GPs and other staff to work in the practice. When new patients register at the practice, more funding is provided by the Board. GPs receive around £100 per patient per year. Approximately 70% is paid no matter how many times a year a patient attends, and 30% for additional and enhanced services carried out for patients.
Many younger GPs have said that full-time clinical work, along with the responsibility of running a practice and employing staff, is now making general practice a less attractive career.
To help support GPs, there will be an increase in GP training places from 65 to 111 by 2019. The HSCB is also investing in pharmacists and advanced nurse practitioners working in GP practices to help reduce workload pressures.
Many Practices are now offering alternative ways to access advice from GP surgeries such as the ‘Ask My GP’ scheme, and an Online GP service which allows patients to book their GP appointments and order repeat prescriptions online.
The HSCB’s priority will always be ensuring that high quality GP services are available to all.