The Ulster Farmers’ Union has welcomed an announcement from Health Minister Jim Wells that £15m is to be invested in GP services in Northern Ireland- including £3.1m in Out-of-Hours services to meet “increased demand” and ensure that there is a realistic alternative to “stretched” A&E services.
Commenting on the announcement, UFU Deputy President Barclay Bell said: “This announcement of more funding for GP services is good news for Northern Ireland’s rural dwellers. Over the past year we have become increasingly worried by news of impending cuts and a feeling that Transforming Your Care was dead and buried and that we were back to the old policies of centralisation. So the UFU Rural Affairs Committee took action and met with Minister Wells in January to highlight our concerns, including GP provision and a lack of out-of-hours services, which was becoming wholly inadequate for rural dwellers.”
Although the investment is welcome, it is only a first step in tackling the impending “crisis” in GP services, according to the UFU. The British Medical Association have said that an investment of £33m is required to ensure that GP services in Northern Ireland are on a par with that in the rest of the UK. As well as this, the details around how the recruitment issue will be dealt with are still unclear, with the fact remaining that many GPs are coming close to retirement and a lack of younger physicians choosing a career in general practice, or instead choosing to go overseas.
UFU Rural Affairs Committee Chairperson Freda Magill added: “This is clearly not going to be the end of the matter. At our meeting in January, Minister Wells said that the issue was not one of finance, but of recruitment, we therefore await further details on this. What we are absolutely clear about is that we do not find it acceptable that a rural dweller in Fermanagh or the Glens of Antrim should have a disproportionate lack of access to healthcare services. One of the founding principles of the NHS was that it was for everyone - and that includes rural dwellers. So while this announcement is welcome, the UFU will continue to monitor developments in the health service in Northern Ireland with interest.”