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NI GP-led triage model in ‘conceptual stage’

26 March 2012

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Exclusive A planned remodel of healthcare in Northern Ireland could result in patient safety risks, a practice manager has warned.

Speaking at the annual Belfast practice nursing conference hosted by Management in Practice’s sister title Nursing in Practice, Colm Donaghy, Chief Executive of the Belfast and Social Care Trust, revealed a GP triage service is being mooted to reduce Northern Ireland’s high A&E attendance rates.

He said patients must undergo a “culture change” in how they perceive healthcare.

“Northern Ireland has higher A&E and GP out-of-hours attendance rates than any other country in the UK – patients almost use them as convenience services,” he said.

“The country is small enough to bring about a complete culture change.”

Donaghy said Northern Ireland Trusts are looking to replicate the healthcare system in Norway, whereby patients are only able to present at a hospital’s emergency department through an ambulance or being triaged.

The idea is currently in its “conceptual stage” and it is thought the model will first be piloted in Belfast city centre.

Sean Quinn, a practice manager at the Ballyclare Group Practice in Co Antrim, acknowledged a triage system would work in an area where GP practices and hospitals were in close proximity but warned remote practices like his would not be able to cope with additional services and extra capacity.

“The key question is how the new system will be resourced,” he said.

“If there is funding available and we can build the capacity within practices to wider the scope of the primary care service, then GPs would definitely be open to it.

“But practices will simply not be able to cope if it is just a case of saying we are going to push work from secondary to primary care without extra resources.”

Quinn also said the new triage system may bring about new patient safety risks as GPs are presented with a “different kind of patient”.

He said the issues around the accommodation and providing equipment for such patients will provide more work for practice managers to “deal with”.

By Louise Naughton