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Investment in GP services to offer more consultations over the holiday period


The Health and Social Care Board (HSCB) has unveiled detailed GP led plans to enable more patients to be seen this winter.

These plans will see GP practices offering additional same day urgent clinical triage consultations, remaining open at lunch time with no half day closures for the working week over the Christmas and New Year holiday period. They have been made possible due to a £5.5m investment in GP services announced by Health Minister Robin Swann last month.

Some GPs will also offer additional consultations including the days immediately following the Christmas and New Year holidays, which have traditionally been amongst some of the busiest for our health and care service.

GP Practices will be allocated funding to provide additional surgeries, between 1st November 2021 and 31st March 2022. For some GPs, this may take place outside of normal contracted hours from 8am – 6.30pm. GP Out of Hours Services will also be in place over this period.

Dr Margaret O’Brien, Head of General Medical Services, Health and Social Care Board said, “GP practices are busier than ever working on the frontline, continuing to respond quickly and effectively throughout the pandemic in order to keep practices open whist ensuring a safe environment for staff and patients. Family doctors are supporting, caring for and protecting their patients in their own communities, in care homes and in Covid Centres. I would ask the public to refrain from abusing staff and to remain patient during this time.

“The most recent data indicates that GP practices carried out 228,000 consultations in the week ending 12 November, with 110,000 (48%) of these being face to face consultations.

“Each year, the winter season imposes further additional pressures on GP Practices. The demand for services will grow significantly whilst we are still in the middle of a global pandemic. Practices are also continuing to vaccinate their patients with a Covid-19 booster alongside the extended annual flu vaccination programme.

“These new initiatives will increase the availability of patient care in GP practices through telephone and video consultations, as well as direct face to face appointments where necessary.”

The expanded GP Out of Hours plan includes obtaining input from other health professional staff ( eg nurses, physiotherapists, mental health specialists and social workers) to bolster the numbers of staff available on rotas to ensure a safe working environment.

The provision of additional staffing will help facilitate a safe and effective GP OOH service over the busy winter period by enabling Out of Hours Providers to plan for and address service pressures and maintain patient access.

Health officials have made clear over recent months that a challenging winter period is expected across the region, with heightened demand for services.

Community pharmacies across Northern Ireland are providing a Pharmacy First service again this winter, for help with everyday health conditions, including common winter ailments. The Pharmacy First service enables patients to have a consultation virtually or in a private area with their local community pharmacist.

The public can also help take pressure off the system this winter by practising self-care and treating minor illnesses, ailments and injuries at home or with the help of community pharmacists. Most of these conditions can be treated with over the counter medicines and plenty of rest.  Whether treated or not, most of these will get better.

Information about a range of common illnesses such as aches and pains, coughs, colds, upset stomachs and sore throats can be found using the symptom checker on nidirect: (https://www.nidirect.gov.uk/campaigns/illnesses-and-conditions).

More information on staying well this winter can be found at: https://www.nidirect.gov.uk/information-and-services/health-and-wellbeing.