Northern Ireland

Patient Council: GP appointments 'must be made easier'

gp Image copyright SPL
Image caption The council said GPs should extend opening hours at evenings and weekends

Getting doctors appointments should be made easier for people who are at work or school during the day, a report has recommended.

The Patient and Client Council has made a series of recommendations after surveying more than 8,200 people in NI.

It said GPs should extend opening hours in the evening and at weekends.

Chief Executive Maeve Hully said there are "strong arguments for concern about people's experiences in the process of accessing care".

She added that while "most people could access their GP within a reasonably acceptable time," availability of appointments could be improved.

She said: "Those who experience difficulty may delay seeking and obtaining treatment, underuse preventive healthcare services and be at greater risk for the complications of delayed diagnoses.

"These potential consequences, in turn, may put increased financial pressure on the health and social care system if individuals arrive in the system sicker and stay in it longer."

Other recommendations in the report on access to GP services in Northern Ireland include:

  • General practices should develop better opportunities for patients to provide their views on accessing services;
  • New technologies should be used to help patients book and manage appointments;
  • Practices should provide dedicated times to call and make appointments outside of traditional working hours;
  • Premium-rate phone lines for contacting practices should be removed;
  • GPs and front-line staff in practices should receive disability equality training.

A Department of Health spokesman said that Health Minister Edwin Poots "fully appreciates the commitment and contribution of General Practice in the delivery of healthcare here in Northern Ireland and recognises that GPs are a key component of the vision in Transforming Your Care".

He added: "The issue of the overall funding allocation for GPs is clearly important but it must be considered both in the context of the current challenging financial climate and also the other elements of the General Medical Services Contract."

Dr Sloan Harper, director of integrated care at the Health and Social Care Board, said: "As Transforming Your Care makes more health care available in the community, the board continues to monitor increased activity in GP practices such as requests for advice, consultations, prescriptions, blood tests, referral to hospital and absence from work.

"Currently this activity is increasing at around 7% per year.

"The need for additional resources to meet this growing demand has been reflected in the GP contract agreement reached between DHSSPS and GP representatives for the 2014/15 year."

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