THE Department of Health (DoH) says it is aware of ‘significant GP workforce issues’ in Fermanagh and Tyrone.
It also states that the Health & Social Care Board has been engaging with practices across the south west area on various initiatives to address the primary care crisis.
In a statement, a spokesperson from the DoH outlined its response to concerns raised last week by local GPs.
The spokesperson said, “The Department fully recognises the importance of ensuring we have a GP workforce in Northern Ireland that is supported, motivated and sustainable, and continues to provide quality care to patients and the Department’s workforce planning approach has sought to take this into account.
“We want to encourage even more highly capable medical students to choose a career in General Practice, and we recognise that positive experiences during clinical placements can have a major influence on such decisions.
“The Department has continued to invest in our GP workforce and has increased the number of GP trainees by over 70 per-cent from 2015 levels.
“There are presently 111 new training places available for GPs each year.
“Looking forward, there is a need for additional GPs to be trained and, as such, the DoH, together with the Health and Social Care Board and other stakeholders, have commenced work on reviewing the number of training places for GPs in Northern Ireland.
“The commencement of the Graduate Entry Programme at the Ulster University’s Medical School is a significant development in the provision of medical education in Northern Ireland.
“The curriculum of this Graduate Entry Programme places a very significant emphasis on Primary Care placements, with a high concentration of clinical placements in rural settings in the west which will help ensure a supply of local students who wish to pursue a career in General Practice in these areas.
“In addition, the GP Induction and Refresher Scheme provides an opportunity for GPs who meet the required criteria to safely return to general practice following a career break or time spent working abroad. It also supports the safe introduction of overseas GPs and provides support to GPs returning to or entering clinical practice in Northern Ireland.
“Similarly, the GP Retention Scheme is designed to assist in the retention of GPs who may be considering leaving or reducing their sessional commitment to general practice.
“It is important to note, however, that the increase in demand for primary care services cannot be met solely by increasing the number of GPs.
“Rather this is part of a wider programme of work to help improve patient access to services in primary care.
“Other elements include the wider roll-out of primary care Multi-disciplinary Teams as well as the introduction of Advanced Nurse Practitioners and additional General Practice Nurses, all of which are making a difference to how services are delivered in primary care and contributing to improved patient outcomes.
“We are aware that there have been significant GP workforce issues in the Western Trust area, particularly in the southern part, and that the HSCB has been engaging with Practices across the south west area on various initiatives.
“DoH will continue to work closely with the HSCB and GP representatives to consider how best to respond to the challenges which face general practices in Northern Ireland.”
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