Emergency action taken to ease out-of-hours GP crisis in Southern Trust

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Health Minister Simon Hamilton has announced more funding and services to ease the crisis facing the Southern Trust’s out-of-hours doctor service, which a GP has compared to ‘walking into hell’.

The comments were made in a confidential report into the service reported by the BBC.

The minister said that actions taken include the introduction of enhanced premia for difficult to fill shifts, additional funding to boost capacity at busy times, and flexible working arrangements for GPs providing out of hours services.

“The Trust is also exploring options to recruit GPs from elsewhere in the EU and has recruited a number of triage nurses, nurse practitioners and pharmacists to work alongside GPs”, he added.

“My Department and the Health and Social Care Board have been working with providers to address the challenges facing GP out of hours services, and a number of actions have also been taken regionally to help meet these pressures.

“Up to £3.1m has been made available in 2015/16 to build capacity in GP out of hours services, including £700,000 to contribute towards indemnity costs for GPs working in out of hours, and a further £1.1m has been provided in-year to help providers meet increased demand for out of hours services over the winter months and the forthcoming Easter period.

“The challenges facing GP out of hours services in the Southern Trust reflect the wider workforce pressures on GP services across Northern Ireland. In recognition of these pressures, I recently announced an investment of £1.2m per year to create an additional 20 GP training places. This is the largest investment in GP training for more than ten years and will increase the number of GP trainees to 85 per year from August 2016. In addition, the reviews of GP-led primary care services and GP out of hours services are nearing completion.

“I expect to receive a report of their findings within the coming days, and I will give careful consideration to the actions needed to ensure patients here continue to have timely access to high quality, sustainable GP services both in hours and out of hours.”