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Last Updated: Friday, 20 June, 2003, 13:33 GMT 14:33 UK
Q&A: GP contract row
GPs have voted overwhelmingly in favour of a new NHS contract.

However, it has been a rocky road. BBC News examines the recent furore over the proposed deal.

What was on offer?

The BMA and NHS managers struck a deal on a new contract for GPs working in the health service in February.

Both sides hailed the contract, saying it was good news for patients and good news for doctors.

They said spending on primary care would rise by 33% over three years to reach 8bn and that patient services would be transformed.

They said GPs would see their salaries rise - some by as much as 50% - and all would see a drop in their workload.

Health ministers in England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland had all backed the deal. Britain's 36,000 GPs were expected to jump on board soon after.

What went wrong?

It appears that the BMA negotiators got their sums wrong. Their predictions that all GPs would see their income rise was wide of the mark.

The BMA had struck a deal on a new formula for calculating the amount of money that should be allocated to each general practice.

It aimed to give more money to those practices that needed it most - those in deprived areas, with the sickest patients.

However, this redistribution meant that while some practices would see their incomes rise others would see them fall substantially.

The BMA then tried to rescue the contract by securing a guarantee from the government that no practice will lose money under the deal.

What has happened now?

GPs have now voted in favour of the new deal by a margin of four to one.

The changes proposed in the contract will now come into force from April 2004.

Is a new contract really that important?

Yes. GPs have been calling for changes to the way they work for years. They say they can no longer cope with their rising workload.

They say major changes are needed to tempt them to stay in their jobs and to encourage other doctors to fill hundreds of empty posts around the UK.

As it is, many GPs are leaving early and few medical graduates are being tempted into general practice.

The government also wanted a new contract. It wants GPs to take on more work currently carried out by hospitals as part of its NHS modernisation programme.

It also wants to cut the amount of time patients wait to see a GP. It can only achieve these if GPs agree to change the way they work.

Both the government and the BMA were also keen to avoid the public relations disaster inflicted on them both by hospital doctors last year, when they rejected a proposed new NHS contract.

A second defeat would have left both sides seriously damaged and could have seen ministers trying to stave off industrial action from both GPs and consultants.

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