Dr Paul Molloy believes people should question politicians about spiralling waiting lists and dwindling GP numbers when they call at their doors in the countdown to next month’s Stormont Assembly election.
Dr Molloy’s remarks come amid concerns that people are having difficulties accessing GPs with doctors also reporting massive pressures on services. He says NI doctors first warned of an impending workforce crisis in general practice 15 years ago.
“Politicians put the issue on the long finger - in other words, they ignored it,” he said. “As predicted, practices started collapsing and the retiring workforce weren’t replaced. Fewer doctors doing more work meant a greater workload.
“In addition, we have a very poorly performing hospital service, with patients waiting years for appointments and operations. Because they are not being seen in hospital, they continually return to us. The ability to deal with new problems is impacted by not being able to sort out the old issues. It’s no exaggeration to say that 30-40% of my daily work is sending letters to speed up appointments or follow up hospital related issues.”
Dr Molloy believes NI’s political system needs to shoulder much of the blame for ongoing problems. “The system in which a party can collapse a working Executive because of something they don’t like is ridiculous,” he said. “And this isn’t a recent thing. It wasn’t so long ago that the system was collapsed for two years. During these periods, there is inaction on policy direction and implementation. Waiting lists and other problems get worse while we tread water.
“They might blame Covid and they may say they will sort out waiting lists and increase GP numbers but what we really need is a commitment not to collapse the Executive and behave like a spoilt child every time they aren’t happy.”
Turning to concerns surrounding the ‘phone first’ system adopted by most GP surgeries at the start of the Covid pandemic, Dr Molloy says many medical practices had moved to such an arrangement years before the coronavirus crisis.
“It was a necessity,” he says. “Practices couldn’t see every patient so they had to triage and work more effectively. If they had more doctors, staff and resources, the system wouldn’t have had to change.”
Dr Molloy acknowledges the format is “different and difficult”.
“Whether we want it or not - personally, I preferred face to face surgeries - it’ll be difficult to change unless we get a massive increase in the numbers of GPs and help.
“If people don’t like the phone first system, I would ask them to please try to understand why it has arisen and the need to try and meet demand.
“I think that, when you compare general practice to waiting lists for out patient appointments and operations, we are still performing admirably.”
Dr Molloy again urged people to think about what to ask politicians in the countdown to the May 5 poll.
“In my opinion, ordinary people want a decent standard of living and a decent health service. When it comes down to it, green or orange, we aren’t that different. I see the same problems in Creggan as I do in Irish Street and the same good honest, decent people. The Irish Language Act or the Brexit-border issue don’t seem to be as important to them as the cost of food and the ability to see your GP or hospital consultant if you are sick. Let’s try to focus on improving our health service and, as I see it, this can only happen with a stable executive.”