GP leaders in Northern Ireland have stepped up pressure on the region’s new government after the announcement of the closure of two practices.
The closures are both in Belfast and forced by the resignation of partners. Ravenbank Practice in the east of the city is to close at the end of March and patients reallocated to other practices, it has announced. Two partners at the Antrim Road Medical Centre also announced they intended to retire at the end of June after spending four years trying to fill a vacancy for a third partner.
The practices care for about 7,000 patients between them, it was reported. The news comes just after the region’s devolved government reconvened, appointing regional ministers for the first time in three years. During the suspension of regional government, the Health Department had agreed a programme of developing multi-disciplinary teams to help relieve pressure on practices.
Regional Royal College of GPs chair Dr Laurence Dorman said the closure news was “not surprising”, warning of the risk of more closures before the end of March. The region has been losing about five practices a year in the last decade.
Dr Dorman said: “In recent months we have spoken to health leaders about how difficult it is to run a practice. GPs and our teams are working to our absolute limits to provide safe, high-quality care, while under intense pressure.
“When a practice closes for whatever reason it is incredibly difficult for everyone involved – especially patients. Generations of institutional knowledge about patients and their families can be lost and there also follows a ripple effect, where neighbouring practices become at risk of destabilisation.
“Now Stormont is returned we welcome the drive for reform of our health and social care system. 90% of NI’s population engage with the health service starting at the appointment with their trusted GP. We urgently need investment in our workforce and premises as well as strategies to address unsustainable workload pressures on GPs and their teams. If health services are to be delivered in community and GP settings, then Stormont needs to ensure general practice has the workforce, resources, and investment we desperately need to continue providing world-class patient care, both now and in the future.”