Investing in primary care and celebrating achievements

1 May 2020

An evening at home

Not only have we all had to change our working patterns, but our home lives look very different as well. Friday evenings however look very similar in my home with drinks after work so let’s take a moment and raise a toast to our profession and some of our colleagues tonight.

Let’s get the mood right first. Have you enough ice in your glasses? What about music? My music preference on a Friday evening is the brilliant Shirley Bassey track “Where Do I Begin (Away Team Mix)”.

A close second is Steve Wonder’s “For Once in My Life” and if you add to this playlist anything by, the recently late, Bill Withers your weekend will be off to a blinder!

For those who prefer a gentler background soundtrack, then I don’t think there is a finer jazz trumpet album than "Candy" by Lee Morgan. While these musical gems are running in the background let me show you why we have cause to celebrate.

Appreciating the efforts of primary care workers

This time last week our brilliant Deputy Chair (Policy), Dr Ursula Mason and I were just finishing a very helpful meeting with the Permanent Secretary, Mr Richard Pengelly and Head of Primary Care, Mr Chris Matthews.

Richard was hugely complementary about general practice and our quick and decisive response to the COVID emergency.

The Department of Health was amazed how primary care managed in a matter of weeks to have these centres opened and assessing patients.

Added to that, the way we continue to provide services to our communities and have worked through two Bank Holidays without pause or complaint, has all been seen in the most positive light by those who are responsible for commissioning health services.

Investing in general practice

We used the opportunity to highlight the need and benefit of investing in general practice.

Specifically, meeting the impending need of mental health issues and how investment in technology will help us embed the helpful changes we have made to date and new ones, such as electronic prescribing, which could benefit us all in future.

I am confident that the Permanent Secretary is more minded than ever in investing in primary care and we will continue to keep him to his word.

More important than gaining the respect and admiration from the Department of Health though is this: the data is in - the COVID centres are working.

Encouraging numbers

Initial data from two weeks in April has shown that in our practices, 11,362 patients with symptoms likely to be COVID contacted our practices.

Of these patients, 1891 patients required further assessment by a COVID centre. Of these, only 15% required referral to secondary care.

The incredible work you have all done both in COVID centres and in your practices has reduced pressure on secondary care services and more importantly has kept our patients safe.

It has not been easy, and I thank you all again for your incredible courage and hard work. I’d like to send a particular message of thanks to all our LMC colleagues who worked seven days a week nonstop to get the centres open and working.

There are too many of you here to name individually, but you know who you are, and I thank you all personally.

Thank you

I have highlighted many times before that no matter what your role is during this crisis, if you are working in general practice, we thank you and value your work equally.

So, if you are performing telephone triage from home, remote consulting in surgery or performing home visits from your local COVID centre then please know that your work is making a significant and measurable difference.

Having said that, please allow me to single out a special cohort of our workforce who are doing exceptional things at the moment.

Celebrating and reassuring our ST3s

Our ST3 colleagues are working away in very challenging times.
 
Northern Ireland has a very proud history of high achievement in the RCGP membership exam and in 1993 our very own Dr Brian Connor from Garvagh Health Centre, Garvagh won the prestigious Fraser Rose Medal which is issued for outstanding performance.
 
Unfortunately, this year our exam has had to be suspended and I want to reassure our ST3 colleagues that I am in twice weekly contact with RCGP Chair, Professor Martin Marshall and I know this will be resolved soon.
 
My message to all our trainees this evening is that you are all outstanding and we look forward to welcoming you into our practice teams.
 
One of the many perks of my job is that I can plant various “spies” around the country, so I wish to give a big hello to the following ST3 doctors.

A very well done to you all

Diane Collins is impressing everyone in Clanrye Surgery, Newry with her intelligent and accurate patient assessments. I look forward to following your career, Diane!

In Derry, Shauna Wilson has made a big impact with her ability to adapt to the new ways of working and her study of her patients requiring B12 injections has made a significant improvement in their care.

In the Archway surgery, Armagh Rosalind Haydock has risen to the challenges that COVID-19 has presented. Unphased by it all, she continues to work hard both in and out of hours and has been an enormous asset to her practice.

Pippa Crutchley has been a great help to the team in Carryduff Surgery and has been a steady force, taking all in her stride.

Ruth Moffett has been working in Lisnaskea and has been noted as a very compassionate and caring GP. 

Welcoming GPARTs

Our second year GPARTs colleagues will hopefully enter our workforce later this year and I send out a big welcome to them.

GPARTs students take two years on their ST3 placement where they perform clinical research and work towards an MPhil qualification.

If your practice is lucky enough to have one of our GPARTs doctors come work with you, then you are in for a treat and will be witnessing the Jedi Knights of our profession!

We look forward to welcoming Johnny Stewart later this year who has worked tirelessly to support NIMDTA and also in helping to develop and promote the fantastic GPNI website which has been such an asset to all of us.

As a young Padawan of Dr Nigel Hart, he is destined to become a star of our profession in the future.

Lucy Hodgkinson in Fermanagh has been a terrific asset to Lisnaskea practice under the inspirational guidance of Dr Miriam Dolan and has been witnessed providing some amazing, compassionate and personal care of her patients.

There are so many ST3 colleagues doing exceptional things that I haven’t mentioned here, so please contact me and tell me your story; I would love to hear from you.

I’m aware that some of you are still working away while shielding. This just emphasises to me even more your dedication and commitment, so thank you.

Let’s support and encourage our future First5s

Our ST3 doctors become our First5 doctors and I would be grateful if all practices could support our sessional GPs at this time, many of whom are seeing their income drop.

Please do not cancel bookings at short notice if you can and be mindful that sessional GPs are relying on performing sessions in our practices to literally put bread on their home tables.

Many of our First5 GPs have really shown their leadership capabilities in spades during this crisis and in Derry, Dearbhla McManus has been a real asset to the GP community there.

In Southern Federation, Karen Kiernan continues to impress with her can do attitude and hard work and in Fermanagh, Mark Cromie and Brenda McGoldrick have both shown considerable leadership.

Outlining the new exam process

I am in regular contact with Michele Stone, Director of Postgraduate GP Education for the Northern Ireland Medical and Dental Training Agency (NIMDTA).

I can assure all our trainees from ST1 to ST3 that everything possible is being done behind the scenes.

I will be joining NIMDTA for some Zoom webinars with separate events for ST1, ST2 and ST3 students soon where we will reach out and share where we are with the exam process.

We will get the dates out to you as soon as possible so, in the meantime, please send in any questions you have in advance to me and I will try and answer as many as possible.

Looking ahead

There are still huge challenges ahead of us as a profession and we will meet them all with professionalism and skill.

However, by changing our surgeries, establishing COVID centres and adapting so quickly to a global pandemic we have demonstrated that we can do amazing things - not only to government and secondary care - but to ourselves.

Our star is truly rising and with this influx of talent due to join us soon, I truly feel we have plenty to celebrate.


Post written by

Dr Laurence Dorman, Chair of RCGP Northern Ireland

Dr Laurence Dorman took office in November 2019 after three years as Deputy Chair of Policy for RCGPNI. A GP principal in Mourne Family Surgery, Kilkeel, Co Down, since 2007, he is the fourth generation of GPs in his family. He was also, until recently, the Chair of Newry and District GP Federation. 

Laurence has particular interests in new ways of working in primary care, cancer care, and inspiring the next generation of GPs. He set up the successful 'Dear Colleague' initiative to improve the interface between primary and secondary care and has been a Strategic Advocate for Interface and Communication since September 2017.

During his time as Chair, he wants to support College members to ensure that the future of GP services is protected, supported and sustainable.

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