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Last Updated: Friday, 8 February 2008, 18:23 GMT
Doctors leaders' hours climbdown
GP writing a prescription (Photo: Science Photo Library)
Ministers want GPs to work for longer
Doctors leaders have backed down in a dispute with the government over extending GPs' opening hours.

The British Medical Association has said the contract on offer is "less damaging" than an alternative the government had threatened to impose.

The BMA is still set to poll UK's GPs on the offer later this month.

Changes to GPs' opening hours will come into force from April, and could mean an average sized practice opening an extra three hours per week.

Ministers want more surgeries open at weekends and in the evenings, but the BMA had previously warned daytime services could be harmed by the changes.

'Less bad'

It had also said GPs felt "bullied" by the government. Negotiations broke down before Christmas when the BMA said it could not agree to the government's proposals.

However, at a meeting of its GPs' committee on Thursday, doctors backed a government plan which would make money directly available to surgeries to fund extra opening hours.

The alternative, which the government said it would impose if no agreement was reached, would have allowed primary care trusts to commission GP services from other providers - and take thousands of pounds away from practice budgets.

I don't like either option
Dr Laurence Buckman, British Medical Association

The BMA says it has opted for the "lesser of two evils".

It will still press ahead with plans to survey GPs in UK to find out what they feel about the contract.

But it is unclear what the BMA will do if GPs fail to follow its lead.

Dr Laurence Buckman, chairman of the BMA's GPs committee, denied the association had backed down.

He told the BBC: "I don't like either option. But we were asked to advise GPs, and our analysis is this is less bad than the other one."

Dr Buckman added: "This is neither a climbdown nor a U-turn."

The BMA says the plan is unsafe for doctors because they will have to work alone at night, and patients will not be able to access the full range of surgery services.

Dr Buckman added: "GPs are willing to do extended hours - we just don't think the government's plans as they stand at the moment will be good for general practice or patient care."

'Good deal'

The Department of Health has said that more than 6m patients were unhappy with their surgery opening hours.

A spokeswoman said: "This is a good deal for patients.

"We are pleased the GPC are now backing our proposals and urging GPs to support them."

Health secretary Alan Johnson wrote to every GP earlier this week urging them to accept the government's plans.

A survey by GP magazine this week found two thirds of the 350 doctors surveyed would turn down the plan which the BMA has given its reluctant backing to.

A quarter of those rejecting the deal said that some form of industrial action was needed, while some called for GPs to threaten to resign from NHS work, or withdraw some services.

Ministers target GPs over hours
04 Feb 08 |  Health
GPs discuss quitting over hours
24 Jan 08 |  Health

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