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Last Updated: Friday, 20 June, 2003, 13:19 GMT 14:19 UK
GPs back NHS contract
GP at work
The contract promises billions more for general practice
GPs across the UK have voted to accept a new NHS contract.

According to the British Medical Association, 79% of GPs who took part in the nationwide ballot backed the deal.

The result will come as a relief to ministers, coming just 24 hours after consultants moved towards industrial action over the government's refusal to re-open talks on their new contract.

The introduction of the contract will lead to major changes in GP practices across the UK from April next year.

Ballot delayed

It paves the way for a major increase in the amount of money spent in primary care, with spending set to rise 33% over three years to 8bn by 2006.

This is a very positive development
Health Secretary John Reid

This is expected to lead to a "substantial" pay increase for GPs, with the average GP expected to earn at least 80,000 a year, compared to 65,000 now.

It will also radically change the way GPs work. They will no longer have to provide care to patients at weekends or evenings.

This will, in future, be provided by doctors working on behalf of local primary care organisations.

GPs will also be able to opt-out of providing certain services, such as immunisation clinics and contraception, in certain circumstances.

In addition, they will be able to employ extra nurse and practice staff.

This will help to free up their time and enable them to see the sickest patients sooner.

The contract also encourages GPs to provide additional services, such as specialist clinics, normally only available in hospitals.

Majority in favour

A total of 31,945 GPs took part in the ballot, representing a turnout of 70%.

Of these, 25,359 voted yes while 6,586 voted against.

This is the turning point for general practice
Dr John Chisholm, BMA

Dr John Chisholm, chairman of the BMA's GPs committee, welcomed the result.

"This signals a new era for general practice. The profession has given a clear mandate for change," he said.

"I believe this is the turning point for general practice and that family doctors have chosen the road which will lead them to a better working life and provide their patients with even higher quality care."

BMA chairman Dr Ian Bogle said: "I regard this as very good news for the future of general practice."

Mike Farrar of the NHS Confederation, which led negotiations on behalf of the government, said: "It is a win-win deal for GPs and patients alike."

Health Secretary John Reid said he was delighted with the vote.

"Patients, doctors and the wider NHS will benefit from these reforms.

"This is a very positive development and a big step forward in modernising the NHS."

However, Shadow Health Secretary Dr Liam Fox said: "The government has a long way to go to persuade doctors that they will be given the professional freedom necessary to make general practice an attractive career again."

Liberal Democrat health spokesman Dr Evan Harris said: "This is a good deal for doctors, but patients would not have voted for it.

"It marks an end to the one stop shop for patients who may have to go to one place to see their GP and another for vaccines or baby checks."

Professor David Haslam of the Royal College of GPs said: "We hope the GPC and the government will give their commitment to continue to work together to ensure the contract really does offer a system that is equitable and fair for all."

The GP contract was published in February after 18 months of negotiations between the BMA and NHS managers.

It was initially hailed as a good deal for doctors and patients. However, GPs threatened to reject the contract after it emerged that some doctors may lose out financially if it was introduced.

The BMA told GPs it had secured key changes to ensure no doctor lost any money.

Industrial action

If GPs had rejected the contract it would have been seen as a major blow to both the BMA and the government.

Both sides are still reeling from the decision by consultants to reject their proposed new contract last year.

The BMA has been pressing ministers to re-open talks to no avail.

Dr Reid said he had no intention of renegotiating what he considers to be a "generous deal".

On Thursday, consultants at a BMA conference in London backed calls to ballot consultants on possible industrial action.

It could pave the way for consultants in England and Northern Ireland to take industrial action within months.

The contract is being introduced in Scotland and Wales subject to ongoing discussions between the BMA and ministers in Edinburgh and Cardiff.


WATCH AND LISTEN
The BBC's Niall Dickson
"The British Medical Association is hailing this as the start of a new era in general practice"



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