The overwhelming majority of GPs who attended a crisis meeting in Belfast this week to discuss the escalating crisis in general practice have said that they are willing to begin the process of leaving the health service.

The interest was gauged hot on the heels of the release of the Health Minister, Michelle O’Neill’s, vision ‘Health and Wellbeing 2026: Delivering Together’, in response to the expert panel’s recommendations, which outlined a number of intended improvements for primary practice, such as the reduction of waiting lists, and investment in practice-based pharmacists.

The meeting, which attracted over 200 GPs from across the Greater Belfast area, was called by British Medical Association Northern Ireland’s General Practitioners Committee (NIGPC).  The vast majority of GPs in attendance, some 97 per cent, agreed that they are willing to sign an undated resignation from the health service in order to prevent the complete collapse of general practice across the country.

The decision to ask GPs to consider undated resignations follows a motion taken at a meeting of the Local Medical Committee (LMC) in March where doctors voted in favour of seeking support for such a mass action if the Department of Health failed to negotiate a rescue package for primary care within six months.

NIGPC is calling on the Minister for Health to ensure the survival of general practice throughout Northern Ireland by investing 10 per cent of the Northern Ireland Healthcare budget on a safe, sustainable GP service for patients; training more GPs so practices at risk of closure can stay open and meet the needs of patients, and; reducing bureaucracy and improve IT systems so more time can be spent providing care to patients.

NIGPC has warned that if the Department of Health does not act to implement these urgent rescue measures then general practice will collapse across the country.  They are asking colleagues to consider signing undated resignations to force the government to act before it’s too late.

Speaking at the meeting, NIGPC Chair, Dr Tom Black, said, ‘We obviously knew things were bad in general practice but we didn’t realise things were that bad. The turnout tonight shows how much pressure we are under.

‘What we have heard tonight are the very issues we have been flagging up in general practice for many months now and unfortunately it looks like it’s crunch time.

‘While there were some positive announcements by Minister O’Neill as part of her Health and Wellbeing plans, until we have greater clarity about the funding for these initiatives we need to move forward with our own plans.’

The meeting, which was held in the Ramada Hotel Shaws Bridge in South Belfast, is the first of five similar crisis meetings to be held for GPs across Northern Ireland over the coming weeks.

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