Long hospital waiting lists are adding to GP pressures and encouraging patients to go private, says NI’s top GP

The new Chair of the Royal College of General Practitioners in Northern Ireland (RCGPNI) has expressed concerns that patients are now waiting up to five years for operations, leaving some feeling that they have ‘no option’ but to pay for private healthcare.

Kilkeel GP Dr Laurence Dorman says that patients who cannot afford to pay are at risk of being ‘left behind’ because lengthy waiting lists for specialist consultations or interventions are causing patients to turn to NI’s private health care system.

At a time when general practice is under unprecedented pressures, he says the delays for treatment are putting ‘huge strain on our services’ as GPs continue to provide care to patients while they wait for treatment.

Dr Dorman made his comments in the wake of a report from the Nuffield Trust think-tank, showing that a patient in NI is nearly 50 times more likely to wait for care compared to someone in Wales.

Figures from the Department of Health show nearly 300,000 people in Northern Ireland are on a waiting list for a first appointment with a consultant, which is 23,500 more than the previous year – a rise of 8.5%.

Dr Dorman says that long waiting lists, GP practice closures and rising patient demand, mean that Northern Ireland’s private healthcare system is increasingly becoming an ‘alternative and costly answer’ for many patients.

He said: “GPs are the first point of contact for patients and the increasing waiting list for specialist services are putting huge strain on our services. While waiting for specialist services patients rely on their GP to review their condition and perform essential tasks such as medication management and blood test monitoring.”

“Many patients feel they have no option other than to purchase private medical care, which risks leaving behind patients who are unable to afford it, and increasing our health inequalities further. It also risks patients accessing investigations and investigations such as scans which are unnecessary and could be avoided if they had access to good comprehensive NHS care.”

“Transformation of how health is delivered has started in Northern Ireland and RCGPNI is very proactive in showing how General Practice can be part of the solution to help deliver better care for patients. Our Vision Document – Support, Sustain Renew highlights the need to invest in General Practice. The introduction of extra workers in GP practices, such as physiotherapists, will improve access for patients with their GP close at hand, ensuring continuity of care is maintained.”