Credit: This story was first seen on the BBC
Hundreds of GPs in Northern Ireland have signed undated resignation letters to the NHS, meaning they could begin charging patients directly for appointments in 2017, the BBC reports.
A shortage of funding and strains on the workforce have already resulted in the closure of many rural surgeries.
The British Medical Association’s Tom Black said GPs have a “huge workload”.
He told the BBC’s Talkback programme that if GPs did not do something there would be “no GP services”. He added, “There are now fewer GPs per head of the population than there were in the 1950s. There are already rural areas where practices are closing because no one will apply for the jobs. Nobody will apply for the jobs because the workload is too huge and there is no workforce, what workforce we have will not go to rural areas.
“This is not about the money – there are just not enough of them (GPs). This is not something that’s happening in Belfast at the moment or in Derry because that is where the limited workforce are going.”
He said the areas that would suffer the most were the south, the west and the south-west of Northern Ireland.
According to the BMA, the shortage of GPs in Northern Ireland is now critical.
Since 2014, hundreds of millions of pounds have been invested in general practice by the Department of Health, but the BMA says this is not enough.
With a growing and ageing population, demand has been growing on general practice, encouraging many doctors to take early retirement.
But Mr Black said this was not what GPs wanted, adding that charging patients would be “a nightmare”.