Practices across Northern Ireland will be using multi-disciplinary teams to relieve pressure on GPs, it has been announced.
Health officials say the project will now involve practices covering some 675,000 people. Practices with the teams have physiotherapists, mental health specialists and social workers based on their premises – together with access to more specialist nurses.
GP Federations in Causeway and Newry & District are to have the teams now, bring multi-disciplinary teams to five of Northern Ireland’s health trust areas. More than £11 million is to be spent on the project this year.
Richard Pengelly, permanent secretary at the Department of Health, said: “The ongoing roll-out of multi-disciplinary teams will help to radically reform the way services are delivered. They enable patients to receive the support they need more quickly, enabling them a greater focus on prevention and early intervention. In time this will reduce the need for referrals and pressure on our secondary care services. They will also release GPs to treat those patients who most urgently require their care.
“This is a vital part of our commitment to transform services. It is widely accepted that without transformation our health and social care system will become increasingly outdated and unsustainable.”
Dr David Ross, chair of the Federation of Family Practices Down CIC, said: “The introduction of the MDT is a major expansion of our practice team. It will enable us to offer a much wider range of treatment options to patients, in their own surgery, provided by experienced practitioners.
“It will allow us to develop much closer links with the community and voluntary organisations, as well as enabling GPs to devote more time to patients with more complex problems. This will fundamentally change general practice in Northern Ireland for the better. It will take time to see the full benefits, but the early signs are hugely encouraging.”
The British Medical Association welcomed the news. Dr Alan Stout, chair of its GP committee in the region, said: “This new model will clearly benefit patients, but also importantly the system as a whole, by increasing capacity in primary care, supporting and sustaining practices and improving access for patients with a wide range of conditions.
“As the programme rolls out patients can see that an appointment with advanced nurse practitioners, physios, social workers, mental health support staff or pharmacists will provide them with the care and information they need.
“Importantly the multidisciplinary team approach also frees up GP time to deal with the more complex conditions, and that is critical when we are working towards developing a sustainable model of service delivery, one that focuses on out of hospital care.”