Doctor at health centre issues GP contract warning

A PORTADOWN GP has warned that proposed changes to GP contracts enforced by the Department of Health are “potentially devastating”.

Dr Jonathan Burnett, who is based at the town’s health centre, said the proposals, which would reduce funding to GPs, “fill me with dread”.

Dr Burnett said the proposals amounted to a reduction in core funding which could affect the front line care of patients.

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And his colleague, Dr David Barbour of The Lakes Family Practice in Craigavon, who also attended a meeting of GPs in Armagh this week, warned that unless something is done, the service could reach “crisis point”.

Dr Barbour claims the changes could increase the amount of box-ticking GPs have to do and result in less time for patients. He warned this could create a knock-on effect with an increase in patients going to hospital emergency departments.

GPs across the province have expressed concern at proposals which may result in a 15 per cent increase in workload without any additional funding to support it.

Dr Burnett said it amounted to the department imposing changes rather than negotiating with GPs as had happened in the past.

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Each area has had health services devolved and while he said the negotiations in Scotland and Wales had been reasonable, England had imposed “draconian” changes for GPs and Northern Ireland “is worse”.

“If you are asset stripping the service and resources from the service and asking GPs to deliver more, it will put people in a difficult position,” said Dr Burnett.

Dr Burnett said the changes, if implemented, could serve to destabilise practices and affect future recruitment of general practitioners as well as affecting patient care.

“If you are taking resources from the practice you are taking them from the patient,” he said.

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He added there was a “lot of talk” about transferring services to GPs but there was a reduction in resources.

Dr Burnett questioned how GP surgeries could continue with care if the department wasted to slash resources.

“It fills me with dread. All we want to do is look after our patients,” said the GP.

Fears are also rife that the proposals could curtail GPs’ commitment to the new Transforming Your Care (TYC) health service reforms.

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Dr Tom Black, chair of the BMA’s Northern Ireland GP committee said, “Practices are already feeling the strain of increased workload pressures and this is set to continue with the government’s implementation of TYC.

“It is estimated that our workload will increase by 10 per cent to 15 per cent - none of which will be patient centred care but increased box ticking.

“Without any funding to support this increased workload, it is the patient who will suffer.”

Dr Black continued, “The GP contract has always funded GPs for taking steps that directly support and benefit their patients clinically, whether it is managing diabetes, controlling blood pressure or tackling the devastating effects of cardiovascular disease. This has led to thousands of patients benefiting from early diagnosis and treatment that has saved lives. “

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“Some practices will have difficulty maintaining the level of care they currently offer, let alone increase their capacity to meet the demands of these new proposals.

“If this contract is imposed, GPs in Northern Ireland will have no choice but to protect their core activity of looking after sick patients, rather than taking a holistic approach to patient welfare.

“If this contract is imposed, GPs will be too busy looking after sick people to be able to engage with Transforming Your Care.

“The unacceptable way the government has handled these negotiations should not set a precedent for future discussions.”