Rural Practices in Northern Ireland moving towards Federation

Michael Smyth, GP, Northern Ireland writes…

nispaThe culmination of a collaborative plan between mostly small rural practices in Northern Ireland was the recent launch of a new action plan by the Northern Ireland Small Practice Association (NISPA).

Over 100 workers and GPs from practices across the province attended the event at the Manor House Hotel, Killadeas.

It’s estimated 54% of small practices in the Western Board area of Northern Ireland are located in Fermanagh with small practices accounting for 45% of all GP practices in NI.

The ‘Maintaining Independence Through Collaboration’ action plan outlines recommendations for small practices to help them work effectively with the necessary changes to NHS contracts first made in 2004, so to maintain and improve the quality of patient care already delivered by practices in the community.

The plan was welcomed by the Department of Health when Christine Jendoubi, Director of Primary Care announced how the department was of mind to fund and appoint two business co-ordinators to support the call for a collaborative network.

Chair of NISPA Dr Michael Smyth, who also runs a rural surgery in Maguiresbridge, said the funding was good news.

“We welcome the fact the Department of Health is willing to offer support for this plan. By introducing these measures into small community practices we can ensure a high standard of quality care which is accountable to everyone.”

Dr Smyth along with his colleagues formed NISPA in Fermanagh from a committee in 2005.

According to Dr Smyth, collaboration between practices is key in maintaining quality standards.

“It’s evident NHS contracts are becoming more complex. There is already a push to move hospital care into local practices. This can be more cost effective and convenient for patients, so it’s vital we collaborate now to develop a solid relationship and continue to deliver a strong, more person-centred network.”

He also stressed the importance of encouraging young doctors to rural areas such as Co. Fermanagh.

“It’s critical that younger doctors are encouraged to inherit these practices. Rural GP practices need to be made more attractive and appealing and by collaborating with each other, I believe this can be achieved.”

Dr Smyth said he would like to see more co-ordinators appointed in the future.

“What I would like to see happen in the future is co-ordinators grouped into clusters with responsibility for specific geographic locations such as Co. Fermanagh. However, for the moment, we are identifying the funding for at least two co-ordinators across the province and that is a welcome start for this action plan.”

An interview panel made up of NISPA chairman and local Primary Care Organisations representatives will shortly sit and endeavour to appoint two Coordinators for Northern Ireland split by geographical boundaries. This is the first step to developing increased collaboration among small mainly rural practices as detailed in documents produced by NISPA. This is an evolving process which will lead to Federation among practices.



(front, from Left) Dr John Kirby, Derrylin; Heather O’Neill DHSSPSNI; Dr Michael Smyth Chairman NISPA; Christine Jendoubi, DHSSPSNI, Director Primary Care; Dr Kevin Devlin, Newtownbutler.

(Back row) Dr Robert Thompson, Acting Director Primary Care SHSSB; Dr Joseph McConville, Enniskillen; Pat Brolly, WHSSB; Dr Archie Fullerton, Donemana; Eugene Gallagher, Head of Primary Care Western Board and Alan Sheppard, Northern Board will link to further info about this project in the near future.


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