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Last Updated: Thursday, 15 June 2006, 13:33 GMT 14:33 UK
GPs hit out at government reforms
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GPs say the pace of reform is too fast
Family doctors have launched a wide-ranging attack on some of the government's key NHS policies.

Dr Hamish Meldrum, chairman of the British Medical Association GP committee told its annual conference, the pace of reform should slow down.

Other doctors agreed, criticising plans to give patients health MOTs and provide evening and weekend opening.

And encouraging private firms into the GP market would lead to the fragmentation of the NHS, they added.

We make no apology for pressing ahead with these reforms, as they will bring huge benefits to NHS patients
Lord Warner, health minister

To date, much of the private sector involvement in the NHS has been confined to hospital care.

But the government sees private firms as the answer to plugging gaps in areas which have traditionally struggled to recruit GPs.

The first in the expected new wave of private deals was signed last month with a firm to run services in east London.

And a High Court ruled on Thursday that a second deal in north Derbyshire could go ahead, after a legal challenge was rejected.

Others private deals are thought to be in the pipeline.

Frank Barrett, the husband of the GP who lost out to United Health Europe to run services in Derbyshire, said the spread of private sector involvement threatened to undermine and fragment the NHS.

He said private firms were after the budgets GPs are being given to commission local services.

He added: "Don't let it (the health service) be given away."

A 'Monty Python quest'

Motions criticising the accountability and bidding process of private sector involvement were passed at the BMA's conference, which was attended by 400 doctors.

Dr Meldrum said the government must ensure GPs are allowed to challenge for the contracts, but added doctors must compete the private providers if they wanted to flourish.

However he urged the government to "slow down the pace of change".

"Don't reorganise for reorganisation's sake."

And he said plans to move care away from hospitals and into general practice was no better than a "Monty Python quest".

He said he was not convinced it would solve the conundrum of merging free general practice care with another that is means tested - social care.

And he said the push, set out in a white paper at the beginning of the year, would be further undermined because GPs were not taking up the option of running their own budgets, which has been designed to encourage family doctors to provide a range of specialist services traditionally done in hospitals.

He said local health bosses were not co-operating and there was "snowball's chance in hell" of meeting the target of universal coverage by December.

Opening hours

At the conference, Dr Peter Boffa, a GP from Croydon, south London, attacked the government's plan to allow patients to have health MOTs - check-ups at key points of their lives - was purely "a vote catching policy".

He added there was no evidence the MOTs would improve health and that they would be exploited by people from wealthier backgrounds.

The plan to encourage practices to open in the evenings and weekends was also criticised.

Dr Alan Middleton, a GP from Cornwall, said family doctors were already working over 50 hours a week and any move to extend opening hours would go against the deal struck between ministers and GPs over the new contract.

Health Minister Lord Warner said: "I begin to wonder if the BMA read our recent White Paper, which asked GPs to play a central role in achieving our goal of providing patients with more treatment closer to home."

He added: "We make no apology for pressing ahead with these reforms, as they will bring huge benefits to NHS patients, as well as more satisfaction to the practices who participate."

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