Just as NHS contractors have been affected by the payment cap introduced by the NHS, GPs too are affected. However, in the case of GPs in Northern Ireland, it has more to do with the collapse of general practice, according to Northern Ireland General Practitioners Committee (GPC) Chair Dr Tom Black.
The GPC is set to vote on whether it should accept resignations of GPs. Should this happen, it will see the GPs leaving the NHS and being able to charge patients for consultations.
Dr Black stated that this is one of the most radical actions ever proposed by GP leaders in the UK. He said that the vote could have been avoided had the Government agreed to a rescue plan. However, the Government did not go ahead with the stimulus package, leaving Northern Ireland GPs with no alternative but to leave the NHS.
Once the GPC decides, GPs will be free to leave the NHS and charge patients a likely £45 for consultations. In fact, nearly 97 per cent of members of the British Medical Association are in favour of this move.
Dr Black went on to state that the problem will arise when all the general practices in a county resign. In such circumstances, the GPC would have to support the practices through lawyers, estate agents and accountants since some practices may be housed in health centres. However, the GPC has established a defence fund amounting to £600,000 to £700,000.
Furthermore, Dr Black said that patients will not pay consultation fees and will flood the A&E departments in hospitals. As a result, hospitals will be overwhelmed, and this will continue until the Government finds a solution.
Portadown is already facing a potential loss of GP services after the practice staff resigned and the replacement medical contractor decided not to take over the practice. The situation is similar across Northern Ireland, though some areas are worse than others.
The Royal College of General Practitioners has urged the Government to work with GPs so that general practice in the country can be salvaged.