RCGPNI responds to review of medical school places in Northern Ireland

Publication date: 14 January 2019

Responding to the key findings and recommendations in the NI medical school places review, Chair of the Royal College of GPs NI Dr Grainne Doran said:

"Professor Gardiner's report outlines the stark realities facing the medical workforce in Northern Ireland. GPs and colleagues from other professions have been facing workforce challenges for many years as a result of a lack of planning and the College urges the Department to heed these findings and act immediately.

"The GP workforce has been changing over time. There is an increasing preference for modern work patterns, involving more flexible working and portfolio careers that involve a mix of working across general practice, hospital settings and community care services. We need to ensure we can meet the needs of both patients and professionals and having a sufficient stream of medical students and trainees across the various primary care professions is a key component of delivering this. 

"We know we currently do not have enough full-time equivalent GPs in NI working solely in primary care and that we will need even more GPs to meet patient need, as people live for longer with more chronic conditions. These complex conditions are best managed in primary care, providing general practice is properly resourced, staffed and supported and there is adequate space to host GP teams in fit-for-purpose buildings. Crucially, we need more medical students and need to ensure there is sufficient capacity to train and educate students, trainees and staff. We simply cannot transform our health services without these fundamental issues in primary care being addressed.

"Retention is a vital element of workforce stability; not only in doing more to decrease the number of students and trainees who leave NI to study, train and work elsewhere, but to retain the skills of our older colleagues who are considering retirement. Almost one quarter of GPs in NI are aged 55 and over, and we must do what we can to encourage them to stay within health and social care for as long as possible, so we do not lose their expertise.

"The figures in the medical school numbers report highlight the falling number of Foundation Doctors who enter directly into specialty training and this must be accounted for in workforce planning for the future. While RCGPNI welcomed the increase in GP training places to 111 per year, places are not being filled and recruiting into specialty training must remain a priority. 

"We also know that increasing training places is not enough in isolation to address GP workforce needs and we are pleased to see local and overseas recruitment campaigns acknowledged as a part of this solution. The College has been urging the Department to invest in a programme to attract people to live, work and train in Northern Ireland and the value of this has been recognised. We urge the Department to expedite robust plans for this work urgently. 

"The Department of Health's response to the review of medical school places once again highlights how the political stalemate continues to thwart some of the essential elements of healthcare transformation and it is clear that more must be done to prepare for the future and support the current struggling workforce. Last year, the HSC Workforce Strategy was published and the recommendations from today's report mainly lie within its remit. To date, there has been minimal transparency around the development of any action plans for taking this Strategy forward and we call on the Department to urgently put plans in place to address the serious challenges we are facing."

Further Information

Clare Higgins
07341 737 033

Notes to editor

The Royal College of General Practitioners is the largest membership organisation in the United Kingdom solely for GPs. It aims to encourage and maintain the highest standards of general medical practice and to act as the 'voice' of GPs on issues concerned with education; training; research; and clinical standards. Founded in 1952, the RCGP has just over 50,000 members who are committed to improving patient care, developing their own skills and promoting general practice as a discipline. RCGP NI represent over 1300 members in Northern Ireland.

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