Publication of Family Practitioner Services Statistics for Northern Ireland 2018/19

Date published: 27 June 2019

The Health and Social Care’s Business Services Organisation has today published its Family Practitioner Services Statistics for Northern Ireland 2018-19.

Statistics Graphic

The report contains high level summary information on activity and payments in relation to General Medical, General Dental, Ophthalmic and Pharmaceutical Services. Information is provided at NI level with further breakdowns presented at both Local Commissioning Group (LCG) and Local Government District (LGD) level. A number of UK comparisons have also been newly included.

Key Points

The key points from the 2018/19 Report are:

General Medical and Registrations Services

  • There were 327 GP practices active at 31st March 2019 in Northern Ireland compared with 350 in 2014.  As the number of practices has decreased, the average number of registered patients per practice has increased by 11% over the same period to reach 6,084 in 2019.
  • Despite the reduction in GP Practices, the number of GPs (excluding locums) has increased by 13% to 1,334 over the same period.  Of these, over half (56%) are female, a notable shift in gender from 2014 when the majority 54% were male.
  • There were just under 1,990,000 individuals on the index of patients registered with a GP practice at 31st March 2019. During the year, there were 52,500 new patients registered (of which 28% were non-UK nationals) and 35,000 patient registrations deducted from the index.
  • During 2018/19, BSO processed £258.6m of payments towards the overall cost of GP services in Northern Ireland.

Dental Services

  • In Northern Ireland there were 376 dental practices with 1,139 dentists registered to carry out health service treatments at the end of March 2019, similar to the previous year. Females now make up over half (56%) of the workforce.
  • Just under two-thirds (64%) of the population are registered with a practicing health service dentist, and this has remained relatively unchanged over the last 5 years. Children are more likely to be registered with a health service dentist than adults with registration rates of 75% and 61% respectively.
  • Fermanagh & Omagh LGD, despite having a registration rate for children in line with the regional average at 75%, had by far the lowest adult registration rate at 43%.
  • Over the last six years the number of children requiring a filling or an extraction in a community setting have both shown a decrease - with falls of 12% and 7% respectively.   With extractions, however, this may, in part, reflect an increasing trend to have these carried out in hospital under general anaesthetic.
  • In 2018/19, the net cost of primary care dental services in Northern Ireland was £99.5 million; in addition patients here paid a further £25.6 million for treatments.

Ophthalmic Services

  • In Northern Ireland, there were 271 ophthalmic practices at end of March 2019 with 634 Ophthalmic Practitioners registered with BSO to provide Ophthalmic Services.
  • Almost 470,500 sight tests were provided to patients during 2018/19, with two in every three (66%) provided to children under 16 or to older persons aged over 65.
  • Just over 12,850 unique patient assessments took place under the new Northern Ireland Primary Eyecare Assessment and Referral Service (NI PEARS) of which the vast majority 91% were new assessments with the remainder follow-ups.
  • During 2016/17, Northern Ireland carried out around 25,600 health service sight tests per 100,000 population, a similar rate to Wales but 9% higher than England.  All countries, however, have rates at least over a third lower than Scotland which offers free sight tests to its population every 2 years.
  • In 2018/19, the cost of primary care ophthalmic services in Northern Ireland was just over £23.6 million. The majority of the ophthalmic spend is on health service optical vouchers, to use towards the cost of buying glasses and lenses, closely followed by sight tests.

Pharmaceutical Services

  • Around 41.8 million prescription items were dispensed in Northern Ireland in 2018/19 which is broadly comparable to dispensing levels for the last three years.  However, the associated total ingredient cost, £421.3m, is over 3% less than the equivalent cost for 2017/18.
  • Prior to 2016, Northern Ireland had the highest Net Ingredient Cost (NIC) per Prescription Item when compared to other UK regions.  Since then Scotland have had the highest average item cost with latest 2018 figures showing them to have a NIC per item of £11.27 compared to Northern Ireland at £10.11, England at £7.96 and Wales lowest at £7.19.
  • Prescription items relating to the Central Nervous System accounted for almost one quarter (24%) of the total ingredient cost over 2018/19, unchanged from the previous year.
  • Over the past decade, the average monthly dispensing volume per community pharmacy has increased by over one-fifth (22%) from around 5,300 items per pharmacy to just over 6,500 items in 2018/19.  The rate of increase, however, has slowed over the last few years.

Notes to editors: 

  1. This is the second Official Statistics report produced by the Health and Social Care’s Business Services Organisation (BSO) since it was specified as an Official Statistics producer body under the Official Statistics Order (Northern Ireland) 2012. It provides the definitive source of figures on BSO Family Practitioner Services (FPS) activity and finalises the provisional quarterly figures which have been released over the course of 2018/19. It also complements other statistical information historically released in its annual Prescription Cost Analysis (PCA) and monthly GP Prescribing Open Data.
  2. Family Practitioner Services (FPS) is responsible for annual payments in excess of £800 million to primary care contractors including GP Practices, Dentists, Opticians and Community Pharmacists on behalf of the Health and Social Care Board (HSCB).
  3. The data relate to BSO’s General Medical, General Dental, Ophthalmic and Pharmaceutical Services payment and registration activities and have been sourced from administrative systems. It is important to note that, unless otherwise stated, figures relate to the year in which a payment claim or registration was processed by BSO and this may not necessarily coincide with when the actual activity took place (i.e., some claims from a previous year may be processed in the current year whilst, conversely, some claims relating to activity in the current year may not be processed until a later year).
  4. Primary care statistics on number of GP’s, dentists, opticians are taken from lists of performers registered to provide these services. The lists maintained by BSO provide a headcount rather than full-time equivalent figures so takes no account of differences in hours worked or changes to practitioner working patterns over time.
  5. In the pharmaceutical section of the report, the total ingredient cost is the basic cost of a drug as used in primary care. This is the cost at list price excluding VAT, i.e. the price listed in the national Drug Tariff or in standard price lists and is not necessarily the price that has been paid. It does not take into account any contract prices or discounts, dispensing costs or fees, so the actual cost to the health service will be different. In other parts of the UK the equivalent is called the Net Ingredient Cost (NIC) and is used in Prescription Services reports and other analyses, as it standardises prescribing costs nationally, and allows comparisons of data from different sources.
  6. Whilst a number of UK comparisons have been included in the report, there can be important differences in how services are delivered between countries that can impact on the figures. The relative size of the private sector in the delivery of primary care services within each country will be a particularly important factor in this regard so care needs to be taken when interpreting any inter-country differences in HSC activity levels.
  7. The report itself presents high level summary information with all of the detailed data tables consigned to the accompanying Excel appendices. The figures are prepared and released by independent NISRA statisticians working within BSO’s FPS Information and Registration Unit.
  8. Quarterly updates for 2019/20, for key report tables, will be released on a provisional basis on the FPS section of the BSO website. These will be added to the historic quarterly series. The timetable for the release of the quarterly updates will also be published on the BSO website and all publications, both quarterly and annual, will be formally announced on the UK.Gov release calendar.
  9. The publication is available on the Business Services Organisation’s website
  10. Electronic copies of the Bulletin and associated Excel tables are available free of charge 
  11. For media enquiries please contact the Department of Health Press Office team on 028 9052 0575 or email: For out of hours please contact the Duty Press Officer on 028 9037 8110.
  12. Follow us on twitter @healthdpt.
  13. Official Statistics. This is an Official Statistics publication and therefore follows the Code of Practice for Official Statistics.  You can find further information about the Code of Practice
  14. For further information please contact:
    Information Unit
    Family Practitioner Services
    Business Services Organisation
    2 Franklin Street
    Belfast BT2 8DQ

Share this page

Back to top