Dr Laurence Dorman, Chair of the Royal College of GPs in Northern Ireland, has said it is deeply regrettable that many patients are struggling to access GP services, but made clear this is not the fault of hardworking doctors and practice teams.
Dr Laurence Dorman, a GP in Kilkeel, commented:
"Following decades of underinvestment, general practice did not enter the COVID-19 pandemic in a good place. Issues around access were common, with many patients having to wait two weeks or more for a routine appointment with no flexibility in our system, to accommodate working people or the length of appointment times.
"While these pressures have been recently highlighted in the media, the challenges and pressures have been felt by GPs and practice teams for some time. Indeed, we have repeatedly called for a significant increase in financial support to general practice and the expansion of our GP workforce.
"Despite providing 95% of care a patient will need across their lifetime, general practice in Northern Ireland receives only approximately 8% of Government funding. In addition, our GP workforce has decreased in numbers, while demand is rising exponentially. It is no surprise that this has manifested itself in worsening patient access.
"We recognise and understand that many patients are struggling to access our services. This is deeply distressing for our GPs and staff, who want to be able to provide timely and compassionate care in their communities, but they are genuinely overwhelmed and cannot meet this current demand. Please know we are trying our very best but despite all tireless efforts, we cannot meet demand at present.
"General practice is in crisis and that has been well articulated over the last number of days. It is now time for action; to invest in our community care services, expand the GP workforce, tackle unsustainable and unsafe workload levels and expand practice teams to include physiotherapists, mental health workers and other professionals.
"Patients deserve better, as do our exhausted, demoralised GPs and their practice teams."