Patient access 'essential' amid GP service concerns – BBC


It is essential patients can get GP services when they need it, Health Minister Robin Swann has said after concerns were raised that people are having difficulties accessing GPs.
Mr Swann also said it was regrettable that "for so long obvious problems were left unaddressed".
His statement comes after BBC News NI highlighted issues people are facing when trying to see a GP.
Doctors have also reported massive pressures on services.
The Royal College of GPs on Wednesday said that a phone-first system adopted by most GP surgeries at the start of the Covid-19 pandemic is here to stay.
However, some people told BBC News NI that the system did not work effectively, a point accepted by Royal College of GPs' Dr Ursual Mason who said there was not enough GPs to see people.
Mr Swann, in a statement, said primary care was the "bedrock of our local health service".
"Over the last two years I've had the privilege to meet and get to know so many GPs right across Northern Ireland," the health minister said.
"Yet, in early 2020, it was a service I was stunned to see in such a state of internal flux and under so much unsustainable strain."
He said general practice had been treated as "a Cinderella service – awarded platitudes but given little actual investment or support".
Mr Swann added that he had introduced a number of new measures including the introduction of additional GP nurses and a new graduate entry programme at Ulster University's medical school, with a focus on placements in rural settings and the west.
He also said more than £5m had been made available to support GPs over the winter period.
On the phone-first service, Mr Swann said it had advantages but that "the current system still isn't working as it should".
"Whilst by no means everywhere, in some areas too many patients are having to ring practices far too many times before they get through to somebody on the other end of the line.
"That's clearly not the level of service patients should expect."
He added that GPs had "performed heroically under the most difficult of circumstances, whilst also playing a huge role in the vacciation campaign" but that "more work is needed to improve patient access".
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