General practice in Northern Ireland is “on the edge of a full-blown crisis”, a survey has suggested.
The British Medical Association (BMA) has issued a warning in their latest attempt to highlight the difficulties facing doctors.
About 65% of practices across Northern Ireland took part in the survey.
Dr Tom Black, the chair of the Northern Ireland General Practitioners’ Committee (NIGPC), said it showed some practices were struggling to survive.
“We knew the situation was bad, but the research showed clearly that primary care here is on the edge of a full-blown crisis,” he said.
“The situation was particularly bad for smaller, single-handed and rural practices that have fewer GPs working in them and who are struggling to fill vacancies.”
The survey concludes that the majority of practices in rural areas are at risk of closure.
This risk, it says, is greatest in County Fermanagh, where three out of four practices are in danger of closure due to workforce and workload issues.
According to Dr Black, his colleagues have been warning the government that general practice “is in trouble”.
“Unless action is taken and funding is made available, there is a real risk of practices closing, GPs retiring and thousands of patients here facing the very real prospect of not having a GP to call on when they need help,” he added.
The NIGPC, which represents doctors, has called for fair and sustainable funding, with a minimum of 10% of the health budget.
It also wants a taskforce to support practices at risk.
The survey sheds a worrying light on the medical profession, but it is not the first time that the BMA has raised the issue.
The association has repeatedly warned the role of the GP is expanding rapidly.
An ageing population with serious long term health conditions means GPs are often required to do a lot more with often a lot less staff and resources, according to the BMA.
Dr Black said: “We must find ways of securing general practice in the short term and evolve to a modern, sustainable model of general practice for the future to allow us to provide a service that meets the needs of patients.”