Dr Tom Black says Derry GP numbers have stood still for half a century

Local GP, Dr. Tom Black.
Local GP, Dr. Tom Black.

Derry doctor Tom Black has said there are fewer GPs in the city now - per capita - than there were in the 1950s but over 15 times as many hospital consultants.

He warned it’s time to start reinvesting in primary care.

Dr Black, Chair of the British Medical Association (BMA) General Practitioners Committee, who practices at the Abbey Medical Practice in the Bogside, laid bare the extent to which primary care has stood still in comparison to hospital-based care over the past half century, during a briefing of the Stormont Health Committee.

During the briefing, prior to the publication of the Bengoa report last week, he said: “Somebody handed me the Londonderry Services Directory 1957. I thought, ‘What is interesting about that’, so I looked at it,” he told a recent meeting of the Stormont Health Committee.

“There were 36 GPs, including Dr Fallon, Dr Cavanagh, Dr McCloskey, Dr Milne from the Waterside and Dr Kelly; all the names I recognised from the very beginning of my career. There were 36 of them, which was one GP for every 1,380 patients.

“There is now one GP for every 2,000 patients in Derry; we have fewer GPs now than we had then. How many consultants were there in the City and County Hospital? Sixteen. Altnagelvin was built a couple of years later.

“How many consultants are in Altnagelvin now? Two hundred and fifty. We have fewer GPs now than we had in the 1950s, and we have 10 or 20 times as many consultants.

“Is that because all the reports say that we should take all the resources out of primary care and put them into hospitals? No, all the reports say the opposite,” he said.

The local doctor said his own practice is owned by the community of the Bogside, which does not accept three week waits for doctor appointments are good enough.

“My practice is in the Bogside in Derry, and it is within a stone’s throw of where my father, grandfather and greatgrandfather were all born,” he said.

“The resource that you give us to run these GP practices, which the public own, is a community resource. I have always reckoned, and my patients and family members in the practice have always told me, that they own the practice and the resource. They are right. The public pay for this, and we are there to service their needs.

“We always had the attitude of, ‘There are the appointments. Book them’. Gradually, over the last number of years, the wait has gone out from two or three days to four or five days and, at the beginning of the summer, it went to three weeks.

“Everybody was telling me, ‘This is not good enough’, and I was working harder and harder and getting nowhere,” he said.