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Last Updated: Thursday, 4 October 2007, 12:49 GMT 13:49 UK
NHS review targets GPs and bugs
Sir Ara Darzi
Lord Darzi has been asked to carry out the review
A major package of measures has been unveiled to improve access to GPs and tackle hospital infections in England.

Ministers have asked local health chiefs to work with GPs in a bid to get half of practices opening on Saturday mornings or in the evenings.

Money is also being set aside to open 100 new practices in the poorest areas and 150 polyclinics with a range of extra services, open seven days a week.

All hospital patients in England are also to be screened for MRSA.

This screening will start with all elective admissions for MRSA next year, building to all emergency admissions over the next three years.

And a 100m fund - in partnership with the Wellcome Trust - is to be set up for the next five years to support technological advancements, it was announced.

Bringing forward Darzi's findings so soon is yet another example of this government using our NHS as a political football
Andrew Lansley, shadow health secretary

The package was unveiled in an interim review of the NHS being led by Lord Ara Darzi, a health minister and practising surgeon.

The Darzi review was announced in the summer with the final report expected next year in time for the 60th anniversary of the NHS.

Prime Minister Gordon Brown said it was about making the NHS the "best it can be".

And on the forthcoming NHS anniversary, he added: "I think it is an occasion not just to celebrate the NHS, but to renew it for future years."

But the publication of the report - a week ahead of schedule - has further fuelled speculation an election will be announced next week.

The focus on GP access is also telling as this is widely expected to be the key battleground on health.

Ministers have come under attack for the GP contract in 2004 which allowed doctors to give up out-of-hours care, while at the same time granting them huge pay rises.

The funding for the new practices, polyclinics and extended hours will not be revealed until the comprehensive spending review is published - mostly likely next week.

But Health Secretary Alan Johnson said: "This is a massive investment in primary care provision and will benefit millions of patients."

He also said he wanted to open up a "dialogue" with GPs rather than tear-up the contract.

But the report warned the government would be willing to see funds used to invite private sector providers into the market if GPs refused to be more flexible.

GPs are coming under pressure to extend surgery hours

Dr Richard Vautrey, deputy chairman of the British Medical Association's GPs' committee, said: "Any changes must not undermine the quality of service that practices are already providing."

But shadow health secretary Andrew Lansley said: "Bringing forward Darzi's findings so soon is yet another example of this government using our NHS as a political football.

"How can NHS professionals feel confident and how can patients feel safe when they know that this report must have been cobbled together without consideration for clinical evidence."

And Liberal Democrat health spokesman Norman Lamb said it had only been three months since Gordon Brown launched the review.

"How much can he have listened while engineering all the talk about elections?"

Lord Ara Darzi on the findings of his review

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