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NEWS: Northern Ireland doctors call for GP technology plan

by in GP Practice Management, News, Northern Ireland

Some GPs in Northern Ireland are unable to carry out remote patient consultations because of a lack of access to basic IT hardware and software, according to a survey.

The technology survey released by the Royal College of GPs in Northern Ireland, with just over 100 respondents, found that about 40% of GPs said they have not been able to practise remotely from home during the Covid-19 pandemic, with 31% stating access to technology as the reason and 39% citing network issues while working from home.

RCGPNI is now calling on the Government to ensure every GP practice has the necessary technology to allow GPs and their teams to work remotely from home, where necessary. This should include access to laptops, appropriate connectivity and software to allow effective video consultations.

Dr Laurence Dorman, chair of the Royal College of GPs in Northern Ireland, said: “Our GP colleagues have to be commended for their truly innovative response in totally changing how they deliver care in our surgeries. Through investment in IT, access to home working will benefit our patients, ensuring they have good access to their own GP who may not be able to attend their practice in person.

“Aside from the extra pressures brought about by Covid-19, patients still require care for undiagnosed conditions and management of long-term illness. GPs are the doctors the public know and trust and they need to be facilitated so their patients can access them better in these changed times.”

RCGPNI also wants to see a Northern Ireland government-led technology plan, setting out clear guidance and accountabilities for deploying technology to GP practices. Where possible, GPs have moved to remote ways of working and are now carrying out the majority of patient consultations remotely. But the RCGPNI technology survey shows there is still some way to go before all GPs have universal access to the technology that would allow them to deliver effective patient care remotely.

“Standardised technology backed by well-staffed IT departments, rolled out across general practice would make a major difference to the care we can deliver to our patients both during the Covid-19 crisis and beyond and would also benefit the rest of our health system,” added Dr Dorman.

* The Royal College of General Practitioners says today that the Covid-19 crisis could change general practice dramatically and permanently.

Professor Martin Marshall, chair of council, and senior colleagues, write in the British Journal of General Practice that before the crisis began, more than 70% of consultations were face to face, but this has dropped dramatically.

Remote consultations, ranging from telephone to video, have become normalised almost overnight, he says, which could have an effect in future on personalised care and shared decision making with patients.  He said GPs have also become more involved in other activities, such as health planning, resource prioritisation, and working with communities.

The fundamental question for general practice is how to retain the positive changes and discard those that could be damaging if maintained, added Prof Marshall.

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