A £5.5m package of support measures has been announced to help ease the pressures facing general practice in Northern Ireland.
Health Minister Robin Swann said £1m of the funding would go to a new Attract, Recruit, Retain scheme to help attract GPs in hard-to-recruit areas.
There is also £680,000 to boost the support team for GP practices who are experiencing difficulties, he said.
And it includes £3m to support practices across Northern Ireland through the winter to resource additional in-hours and out of hours sessions.
Mr Swann also committed to progressing work to address the ongoing issue of GP indemnity, where Northern Ireland has differed from the rest of the UK on agreeing a state-backed system, with a full plan expected in November.
‘The pressures in primary care services are caused in large part by historic underinvestment over a number of years which has left the system struggling to meet ever-growing demand,’ he said.
‘My department is taking action to address the root causes of these issues in service.
‘This includes increasing the number of GP training places in Northern Ireland to an all-time high of 121 and providing an additional £1.5m investment to support continued staff recruitment to the MDT model.’
But he added the package would help strengthen GP services through the winter period and provide targeted help to those practices that are most at risk.
Commenting on the additional funding for general practice, BMA NI GP committee chair Dr Alan Stout said the announcement was welcome and it was clear the minister understood the problems general practice was facing.
But he added that ‘unfortunately it will not be a solution to the problems many practices are experiencing right now’.
‘The Attract, Recruit, Retain scheme may help practices recruit new GPs but with a well-documented ageing workforce, and with a quarter of our GPs over the age of 55, we need to ensure that we retain GPs as well in order to stabilise and grow general practice.
‘MDTs have helped many practices and patients but we really need to see it rolled out right across Northern Ireland so there is parity for all patients.’
He added they had raised issues with indemnity with the minister and Department of Health many times and it is good to see that recognised.
‘Finally, meaningful change will require proper planning and this will require not only a budget for this year, but also a multiyear budget. This requires an executive and strong political leadership. We will continue to see deterioration of our NHS until this happens.’